Francesco Gioli (1846 – 1922)
Passa il viatico (The Viaticum)
Oil on canvas
Galleria d'arte moderna, Pitti Palace, Florence
Gioli was one of the Macchiaioli, the Italian precursors of the French Impressionists
They are now regarded as the initial movement in modern Italian painting
Gioli exhibited what is now one of his most famous paintings, Passa il viatico, in Paris in 1878
The work made his name to a huge audience. Amongst his many admirers was Degas
The scene is set in the Italian countryside in the nineteenth century. The priest and his entourage are about to visit a dying person to administer the sacraments - the Viaticum
Such a public scene is never seen today although it was seen fairly recently and certainly within the living memories of many
The usual sacraments were Penance, Holy Communion and Extreme Unction
If the person had not been baptised then also Baptism and with the delegated power from the Bishop - Confirmation
The Catholic Encyclopedia says of the Viaticum:
"The priest, having placed the pyx in the burse, which should hang on his breast by a cord round his neck goes to the sick person's house, reciting on the way the "Miserere" and other psalms and canticles he may know by heart."
The Catechism of the Council of Trent (De Euch. sacr., n. 3) said of the Viaticum:
"Sacred writers call it the Viaticum as well because it is the spiritual food by which we are supported in our mortal pilgrimage, as also because it prepares for us a passage to eternal glory and happiness".
The present Catechism says:
"V. Viaticum, the Last Sacrament of the Christian
1524 In addition to the Anointing of the Sick, the Church offers those who are about to leave this life the Eucharist as viaticum. Communion in the body and blood of Christ, received at this moment of "passing over" to the Father, has a particular significance and importance. It is the seed of eternal life and the power of resurrection, according to the words of the Lord: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." 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.
1525 Thus, just as the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the 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."
We remember James 5
"13 Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praise.14 Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint (him) with oil in the name of the Lord,15 and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful."