VIATICUM (a Latin word meaning " provision for a journey "; Gr. TO. i<f>66ia), is often used by early Christian writers to denote the sacrament of the Eucharist, and is sometimes also applied to baptism. Ultimately it came to be employed in a restricted sense to denote the last communicn given to the dying. The 13th canon of the council of Nicaea is to the effect that " none, even of the lapsed, shall be deprived of the last and most necessary viaticum (0o6w)," and that the bishop, on examination, is to give the oblation to all who desire to partake of the Eucharist on the point of death. The same principle still rules the canon law, it being of course understood that penitential discipline, which in ordinary circumstances would have been due for their offence, is to be undergone by lapsed persons who have thus received the viaticum, in the event of recovery. In extreme cases it is lawful to administer the viaticum to persons not fasting, and the same person may receive it frequently if his illness be prolonged. The ritual to be observed in its administration does not differ from that laid down in the office for the communion of the sick, except in the words of the formula, which is " accipe, carissime f rater (carissima soror), viaticum corpotis nostri Jesu Christi, quod te custodial ab hoste maligno, protegat te, et perducat te ad vitam aeternam. Amen." Afterwards the priest rinses his fingers in a little water, which the communicant drinks. The viaticum is given before extreme unction, a reversal of the medieval practice due to the importance of receiving the Eucharist while the mind is still clear. In the early centuries the sick, like those in health, generally received both kinds, though there are instances of the viaticum being given under one form only, sometimes the bread and sometimes, where swallowing was difficult, the wine. In times of persecution laymen occasionally carried the viaticum to the sick, a practice that persisted into the 9th century, and deacons continued to do so even after the Council of Ansa (near Lyons) in 990 restricted the function to priests.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)