What distinguishes viaticum from any other h0me Mass for the sick or communion service? Hopefully the readings, but also the renewal of baptismal promises by the dying person. This profession pretty much defines viaticum:
179. A distinctive feature of the celebration of viaticum, whether within or outside Mass, is the renewal of baptismal profession of faith by the dying person. This occurs after the homily and replaces the usual form of the profession of faith. Through the baptismal profession at the end of earthly life, the one who is dying uses the language of his or her initial commitment, which is renewed each Easter and on other occasions in the Christian life. In the context of viaticum, it is a renewal and fulfillment of initiation into the Christian mysteries, baptism leading to the eucharist.
In the current discussion on the sign of peace, this optional rite in the viaticum liturgy gives us a window on an alternate meaning for the ritual:
180. The rites of viaticum within and outside Mass may include the sign of peace. The minister and all who are present embrace the dying Christian. In this and in other parts of the celebration the sense of leave-taking need not be concealed or denied, but the joy of Christian hope, which is the comfort and strength of the one near death, should also be evident.
The sign of peace as an act of taking leave: note that the minister and all present embrace the dying Christian. I like the emphasis on the honest approach to death: no denial or concealment as our death-averse culture often promotes. I like also that Christ’s peace is seen as a grace for the human expression of compassion. That’s a point that we shouldn’t lose when we discuss the Rite of Peace at Mass.