ASK FATHER: Viaticum and how many we can receive Communion in a day

last rites extreme unction anointing viaticum 02From a reader…


I understand that we can receive Holy Communion twice a day, but the second reception must be made at Mass. Can. 917 says this “without prejudice to Can. 921, §2.” I’ve read that this is understood as allowing for the day’s 2nd reception of Communion outside the Mass through Viaticum. However, should this provision also be understood as allowing for a 3rd reception if one had already received twice (the 2nd at Mass) during the day? For example, if I received at a Communion service, then at Mass, could I also receive Viaticum should I have the grace of a provided death? Many thanks.

Since I haven’t had this question for a while, we can review.

First, a provided death means that you – at least – died in the state of grace.  In most instances this can mean that as you were dying a priest gave you absolution.  In more ideal situations, it means that the priest absolved you, anointed you, gave you Viaticum, and, the Apostolic Pardon.  May God, please, give us the grace for this sort of death.

Viaticum, an adjective, is Latin for “of or belonging to a journey, resources, provision for a journey (via)”.. “one for the road” as it were..  In early Latin it was used by Plautus as “a parting farewell meal”.  In military imagery – and we are soldiers on the march in this Church Militant – it was the prize money a soldier made in war.  Communion is also called a pignus, a “pledge” of future glory.  So, in one sense, Viaticum is the moment of being paid out at your soldierly discharge as you step into the patria.

Catholics in the state of grace can receive twice in one day.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law says:

Can. 917 – Qui sanctissimam Eucharistiam iam recepit, potest eam iterum eadem die suscipere solummodo intra eucharisticam celebrationem cui participat, salvo praescripto Can. 921, § 2.

Someone who has already received the Most Holy Eucharist can receive it again (iterum) on the same day only within the Eucharistic celebration [i.e. Mass, not a Communion service] in which the person participates, with due regard for the prescription of can. 921 § 2.

Can. 921 § 2 says that if a person is in danger of death, he may receive Communion even it is not in the context of Mass.  That is Viaticum.

That iterum does not mean “again and again”, but merely “again, one more time”.

Also, that “Eucharistic celebration” in the canon does not mean just any service involving Communion.  It means Mass. That was cleared up by the Holy See in an official response to a dubium.

So, say in the morning you attend a Novus Ordo Communion service wherein you receive Communion, or you went to a Mass in either Form.  Later in the day you stumble into a church where Mass about to be celebrated and decided to stay for it.  At that Mass you can receive Communion again (iterum).  This would be even if you were, say, visiting a Maronite Catholic Church, or a Ukrainian Catholic Church and their Divine Liturgy was about to get under way.

However, if you were at Holy Mass in the morning and then stumbled into a Communion service at a priest-less parish in the afternoon, you could NOT receive again because a Communion Service isn’t Mass.  If you were at Mass in the morning and then in the afternoon when you were visiting your auntie in the hospital when the chaplain came, you could not receive even if the priest invited you to do so (which in my opinion he should not).  However, if you stayed for another Mass immediately following, you would be able to receive.

Canon 917 tries to walk the line between promoting frequent reception of the Eucharist and a superstitious or excessive frequency, which – I can assure you – some people fall into.

The key here is that the second time must be during a Mass, and you may not enter the Mass at some late point merely in order to receive.

Viaticum, which is Communion in the context of Last Rites for someone in danger of death, is a separate issue.

Even if a person has received twice in a day, if the person is in danger of death, he can – of course – be given Viaticum.

At this most important moment of life, a person needs everything that can be given to help him on the way to a happy judgment and the promise of heaven.

At that point, the Church, whose highest law is the salvation of souls, gets “tunnel vision”, as it were, and focuses on the dying person in that moment.

Another way we can see this great concern, is that when someone is dying, any and every priest who was ever validly ordained has – in that moment – the faculty to hear the dying person’s confession and/or give absolution validly.  As most of you know, it is not enough that a priest be validly ordained.  He must also have the Church’s permission granted through legitimate authority to receive sacramental confessions and given absolution validly.  Thus, in the case of a person dying on the street from, say, a car accidents or a freak bow and arrow incident, even an ex-priest who had been convicted of horrible crimes and “laicized”, stripped of his ability to function as a priest for the rest of his life, could, were he present, validly absolve the dying person.

So, under normal circumstances a person can receive Communion twice in a day, so long as the second time is in the context of Mass.  If he tries to die during the same day, he can receive Communion again, as Viaticum.

This doesn’t apply to priests, who must consume both species no matter how many times they say Mass in a day.  Ideally a priest celebrates Mass once.  In some circumstances he celebrates twice (bination).  Under pressing circumstances, he celebrates thrice (trination).  He really isn’t suppose to celebrate more than that but, sometimes, it happens that he has to.  In that case the good of the faithful kicks in and Father takes care of business!  But bination and trination are matters for a different post.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. The Masked Chicken says:

    “If he tries to die during the same day, he can receive Communion again, as Viaticum.”

    Is this a typo? I thought trying to die was a mortal sin. I am confused.

    The Chicken

    [Not a typo, I don’t intend “suicide” either. You have, in your pecking, over-analyzed.]

  2. +JMJ+ says:

    Thank you for answering this. It was actually one of those questions I had that I didn’t know that I had.

  3. Seminarian here. Two questions, based on my own experience:

    1. Does assisting at Mass as obligated to assist allow one to receive past the maximum? [Only if you are dying.]
    2. Does a vigil count as the same day as the following day? [No.]

  4. The Masked Chicken says:

    Okay. I wasn’t trying to be cute. My parser just stalled over that sentence. I claim a case of acute Rosemary poisoning.

    The Chicken

  5. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Recte dixisti, Pater.

  6. daughter of poor gemma says:

    I am in the choir, and at our parish the choir receives communion (from 2 or 3 of our 12 EMHCs) right after the rest of the congregation. We’re a small choir, and on a given Sunday, about half of us stay for more than one mass out of three. There is a significant amount of pressure to receive at all masses attended so that all who want to receive can easily exit the row, so the rest of the choir receives 2 or 3 times per Sunday and gives me incredulous looks as they push past me, as if it’s unthinkable to attend a mass and not receive…

  7. Luvadoxi says:

    Just for clarification, after “as most of you know” you meant “in normal circumstances, not when someone is dying”, right? I think I understand, but it was a little unclear. Maybe changing “thus” to “however”; unless I totally missed the point!

Comments are closed.