by Markus Tymister
In some manuscripts of a pontificale ( = ritual book for the bishop) of the Roman curia from the 13th century, an interesting indication is found which led to the formulation of the title above. It concerns the combined rite for Reconciliation-Anointing of the Sick-Viaticum. Viaticum, Communion for the dying, is to be given to the dying person after the anointing. The corresponding rubric and formula of administration are:
“Tunc tradat ei sacerdos eucharistiam dominici corporis intincti vino et vinum tali intinctione sanctificatum, <in Christi sanguinem transmutatum,> dicens: Accipe, frater, viaticum corporis <et sanguinis> domini nostri Iesu Christi, qui te custodiat ab hoste maligno et perducat te ad vitam eternam. Amen.”
[Then the priest gives him the Eucharist of the Body of the Lord dipped into wine, which is sanctified through this immersion, <transformed into the Blood of the Lord,> and says: Receive, brother, the Viaticum [journey-food] of the Body <and Blood> of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he may preserve you from the evil foe and lead you to eternal life. Amen.] (Pontificale Curiae Romanae sec. XIII: Le Pontifical Romain au moyen-âge, vol. 2, Le pontifical de la curie romaine au XIIIe siècle, L, 3, ed. M. Andrieu (StT 87), Città del Vaticano 1939, 493.)
Now how is that to be interpreted?
It should first be stated that the addition set in brackets <in Christi sanguinem transmutatum / transformed into the Blood of the Lord> is found in 8 out of 21 manuscripts. But in three manuscripts it was removed by a later hand. The addition of the formula <et sanguinis / and the Blood > is found in 14 of the 21 manuscripts.
In the nature of things it was still completely taken for granted in the 13th century that Communion was always to be given in both forms; naturally this also concerned Viaticum. For a long time the severely ill person was to be brought into the church, if at all possible, for anointing followed by Communion. If that were not possible because of the person’s health, the priest could visit the person at home. In this case he brought with him oil and the Eucharist (under both forms).
In Rome of the 13th century the concern most certainly became greater that the eucharistic wine would be spilled in travelling, so simple wine was brought. But administering Communion under only the form of bread was utterly unimaginable – so great was the understanding that the Church should do what Christ had done, and he had given bread and wine to his apostles as his Body and Blood.
Through the immersion of the Host in the wine it was sanctified (this is beyond dispute) and – as 8 manuscripts add – transformed into the Blood of Christ. This phrase does not yet reflect later theological clarifications concerning the consecration, but rather a fundamentally more ancient conviction, according to which the Church was obligated to do what Christ had done, and thereby fulfill the commandment of her Lord. This conviction was initially stronger than the viewpoint, only beginning to develop at that time, which tied the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ to the moment of utterance of the words of the Lord, “This is my Body” – “This is my Blood” over the bread and wine lying on the altar before the priest.
It may well be that precisely this developing theological clarification was the reason why the phrase was eliminated in three manuscripts. Above and beyond this, 14 manuscripts retain the formula “Receive […] the Viaticum of the Body and Blood of our Lord […].” The question was secondary as to whether the “words of institution” were spoken only over the bread or also over the chalice with wine. In any case it was sanctified by the immersion of the consecrated Host. Of primary importance was much more the action: the Church does what Christ himself had done, and therewith bread and wine is also the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. (To speak of “consecratio per contactum” [consecration by contact] would be at best anachronistic, for one would thereby retroject a later theological standpoint into an earlier era.)
However, a short time later the understanding of Eucharist as an action was completely overshadowed by the question of the exact moment of consecration and interest in its results; and then wine was no longer offered as Viaticum. As a replacement, theologians emphasized that one receives the whole Christ even under one form. And this also shows that interest disappeared in the action, and interest increasingly concentrated on the results of the action. So it is only consistent that vessels increasingly developed for the reservation and distribution of the Euchrist which had the form of a chalice (ciborium), in order to emphasize the whole Christ is present under the form of bread.
It remains true today for all participation in the Eucharist: of course I do not receive more of Christ when I communicate under both forms. But in Communion under both forms I comply with the mandate of Christ to do this in memory of him (1 Cor 11: 24, 25), and I share in the cup of the new covenant in his Blood (1 Cor 10:60 and 11:25).
After Viaticum had been given under only one form for a long time, according to the revised rite of 1972 it can again be given in both forms. For this, if Mass is not celebrated in the home of the sick person, the eucharistic wine can be reserved in the tabernacle and brought to the sick person in a securely sealed vessel (Rituale Romanum […] Ordo unctionis infirmorum eiusque pastoralis curae 95, ed. typica, Città del Vaticano 1972, 40). The rite fundamentally speaks of Viaticum of the Body and Blood of Christ (OUI 93) with which the dying sick person is to be strengthened.
Translated and reprinted with permission from the blog Populo Congregato. Original: “Kann einfacher Wein, durch Eintauchen einer konsekrierten Hostie, in Christi Blut gewandelt werden?” Fr. Markus Tymister is faculty member at the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy at Sant’ Anselmo in Rome. Art: “Disputation of the Holy Sacrament” by Raphael.