Bread for the journey

| Father Michael Van Sloun | September 26, 2018 | 0 Comments

The neo-gothic fresco of the scene the Apostles at viaticum by Leopold Bruckner from end of 19. cent. in Saint Nicholas church. iStock-sedmak

Eucharist as viaticum is holy Communion given to a person when death is imminent.

The word “viaticum” is derived from two Latin roots. The principle meaning of “via” is a street or a road, and the secondary meaning is to make a journey or go on a march. “Cum” is a preposition that means “with” or “along with.” When combined, the translation is “to go down the road” or “make a journey along with someone.”

The person who is dying is about to make a journey, hopefully to heaven. If the trip is made by one’s self, it would be lonely and frightening, and without a set of directions or a map, and traversing unfamiliar space, arrival at the final destination would be uncertain. But if, as a person dies, the person has a companion, the journey will be pleasant, and if the companion knows the way and can serve as an escort and guide, the person who has died can travel worry-free, assured of a safe arrival at the final destination.

When Jesus comes to a person in the Eucharist shortly before death, Jesus resides with the person and remains on standby to be his or her traveling partner. Having come down from heaven to live on earth (see Jn 6:38a), and then after having returned to heaven at the time of his ascension (Lk 24:51), Jesus knows the way. In fact, Jesus is “the way” (see Jn 14:6). Jesus promised, “I will come back and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be” (Jn 14:3). After receiving viaticum, Jesus fulfills this promise by accompanying and leading the deceased to the Father’s house where a place has been prepared for the traveler (Jn 14:2).

Last rites for a person who is close to death are three sacraments, not one, and if at all possible, they are to be received in a preferred order: reconciliation first, the anointing of the sick second, and Eucharist as viaticum third. If the person is conscious, alert and able to swallow, the last sacrament is to be the Eucharist. Viaticum assures the person of the privileged presence and special assistance of Jesus throughout the dying process and on the journey to heaven.

Viaticum is the sacrament of “passing over” to the Father. “It is the seed of eternal life and the power of the resurrection, according to the words of Jesus: ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day’ (Jn 6:54). The sacrament of Christ once dead and now risen, the Eucharist is here the sacrament of passing over from death to life, from this world to the Father’” (Cf. Jn 13:1; Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1524).

The Catechism continues: “Thus, just as the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist form a unity called ‘the sacraments of Christian initiation,’ so too it can be said that penance, the anointing of the sick and the Eucharist as viaticum constitute at the end of Christian life ‘the sacraments that prepare for our heavenly homeland’ or the sacraments that complete the earthly pilgrimage.”

The Code of Canon Law states that “the Christian faithful who are in danger of death from any cause are to be nourished by holy Communion in the form of viaticum. Even if they have been nourished by holy Communion on the same day, those in danger of death are strongly urged to receive communion again” (C. 921.1 and 921.2).

Father Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata. Read more of his writing at

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Category: Faith Fundamentals