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The Holy Viaticum in Bourgogne

Margaret C. Galitzin

viaticum in Bourgogne


Snow blankets the village of Bois le Roi, a town in Bourgogne in southeast France. In the countryside, someone is near death and the family has called for the priest to bring the Viaticum. Despite the severe cold, the village priest does not delay to bring the precious assistance of religion, and a small procession forms.

Two farmers, perhaps the relatives of the sick person, carry a canopy over the priest, who holds a chalice bearing the Viaticum. There is no practical reason for this - it is not to offer some protection from the cold for the priest. Rather, it is a symbol of the deep respect and honor rendered to the King of Kings in the Sacred Host.

Ahead of the priest are two young men in altar garb carrying lighted lanterns. One of them, with a bit of impatience, looks out at us, as if to say, "Why are you looking at us as if this were something unusual? Don't you realize we are simply fulfilling our duty to God and our neighbor?" Two women in heavy winter coats, one wearing a typical headdress of the region, close the small procession. Their heads are bent and one senses their quiet reverence as they walk in step together, perhaps quietly praying Pater Nosters and Ave Marias.

A person is dying, waiting for Extreme Unction and the Viaticum, but there is no sense of rush or agitation in those who are going to assist him. Everything is calm, serene and sacral. The priest, who has made similar journeys many times, is confident that Providence will provide, giving the sick man the strength to last until he receives the final blessing and divine nourishment of the Sacramental Body of Christ.

The Church was there at the beginning of his life to bring the soul to Christ by Baptism; she was there at all the important moments to sanctify and strengthen him. And she is there at death, to prepare him for that final and most important journey, when the soul leaves the body and stands before God at the private judgment. The word viaticum is a Latin word that means "provisions for a journey," and the Holy Eucharist is the spiritual food that prepares for us the passage to eternity.

Looking at the picture, we think of the golden words of St. John Chrysostom: “Do not separate yourself from the Church, because there is nothing stronger than she. The Church is your hope, your salvation, your refuge. She is higher than the sky and wider than the earth. Your hope is the Church. She never grows old, but is always filled with life” (St. John Chrysostom, Hom. De capt. Eutropio, 6).

The artist, Aimé Perret, painted this picture in 1879, using villagers and the parish priest, Abbé Dusarger, as his models. Titled "The Holy Viaticum in Bourgogne" (Le Saint Viatique en Bourgogne), the scene depicts the sacrality, reverence and stability of the Church customs of those times.

After admiring the spirit reflected in this scene, we sadly think, "How different from the progressivist spirit that has infiltrated the Church!" The Holy Eucharist is casually carried to the sick or dying in the pockets of priests or lay ministers without any special ceremony. In the minds of the people, the whole notion of the Viaticum has almost disappeared. Extreme Unction, a word so appropriate to help people prepare for death, was considered frightening by its gravity and was replaced after Vatican II with the inexpressive 'The Anointing of the Sick.'

Thinking of the progressivist Sacrament, I recall the prophecy of Our Lady of Good Success to Mother Mariana de Jesus Torres on January 21, 1610. In the unhappy times that would come upon the Church in the 20th century, Our Lady told Mother Mariana, all the Sacraments would suffer abuses, neglect and disregard. Regarding the Viaticum, she said:

"The Sacrament of Extreme Unction will be little valued. Many people will die without receiving it - either because of the negligence of their families or a misconceived affection for their sick ones. Others, incited by the cursed Devil, will rebel against the spirit of the Catholic Church and will deprive countless souls of the innumerable graces, consolations and strength they need to make that great leap from time to eternity." (The Admirable Life of Mother Mariana, Vol. 2, pp. 21-22).

 
Posted March 9, 2012

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