The Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts
Background Info: Since the Divine Liturgy is not celebrated in the Orthodox Church on lenten weekdays. In order for the faithful to sustain their lenten effort by participation in Holy Communion, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is served. The service is an ancient one in the Orthodox Church. We officially hear about it in the canons of the seventh century, which obviously indicates its development at a much earlier date.
On all days of the holy fast of Lent, except on the Sabbath, the Lord’s Day, and the holy day of the Annunciation, the Liturgy of the Presanctified is to be served (Canon 52, Quinisext, 692).
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is an evening service. It is the solemn lenten Vespers with the administration of Holy Communion added to it. There is no consecration of the eucharistic gifts at the presanctified liturgy. Holy Communion is given from the eucharistic gifts sanctified on the previous celebration of the Divine Liturgy; hence its name of “presanctified.”
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is served on Wednesday and Friday evenings although some churches may celebrate it only on one of these days, or they may celebrate the liturgy in the morning [though not the ideal for the Typikon calls for the service to begin after 3:00 p.m. – the ninth hour of the day].
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is traditionally considered to be the work of the sixth-century pope, Saint Gregory the Diologist of Rome. The present service, however, is obviously the inspired liturgical creation of Christian Byzantium.
Service Structure: During the psalms of Vespers, the presanctified gifts are prepared for communion. They are transferred from the altar table where they have been reserved since the Divine Liturgy, and are placed on the table of oblation. After the evening hymn, the Old Testamental scriptures of Genesisand Proverbs are read, between which the celebrant blesses the kneeling congregation with a lighted candle and the words: “The Light of Christ illumines all,” indicating that all wisdom is given by Christ in the Church through the scriptures and sacraments. This blessing was originally directed primarily to the catechumens—those preparing to be baptized on Pascha—who [in times past] attended the service only to the time of the communion of the faithful.
After the readings, the evening Psalm 141 is solemnly sung once again with the offering of incense. Then, after the litanies of intercession and those at which the catechumens were dismissed in former days, the presanctified eucharistic gifts are brought to the altar in a solemn, silent procession. The song of the entrance calls the faithful to communion.
Now the heavenly powers (i.e., the angels) do minister invisibly with us. For behold the King of Glory enters. Behold the mystical sacrifice, all fulfilled, is ushered in.
Let us with faith and love draw near that we may be partakers of everlasting life. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.
After the litany and prayers, the Our Father is sung and the faithful receive Holy Communion to the chanting of the verse from Psalm 33: “O taste and see how the Lord good is. Alleluia.” The post-communion hymns are sung and the faithful depart with a prayer to God who “has brought us to these all-holy days for the cleansing of carnal passions,” that he will bless us “to fight the good fight, to accomplish the course of the fast, and to attain unto and to adore the holy resurrection” of Christ.
Consecration: Since the Gifts at the Presanctified Liturgy have already been consecrated at the previous Divine Liturgy there is no need to pray for the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. However, in order to administer the Consecrated Body that had been inticted with the Blood, the celebrant must place the Gifts into a chalice of wine. This action has led to the question and confusion of some of what the wine in the chalice is. Is it merely wine or the Blood of the Lord? Which further created confusions about whether infants could commune at the Presanctified Liturgy if they can not handle solid foods.
St. Symeon of Thessalonica, an early15th century Archbishop and commentator on liturgics, explains: “…into the sacred chalice, wine and water are poured without the recitation of any prayer, so that, following the fractioning of the divine bread and after the particle lying upwards is placed into the chalice in the usual way, the contents of the chalice are consecrated by the particle. Then the priest, following the usual liturgical order, can himself communicate from both the bread and the chalice and can give communion to those in need of it: to the clergy in the sanctuary-in the customary way, and to the laity [of all ages] -by means of the spoon…Thus, that which is in the chalice at the Liturgy of the Presanctified is consecrated not by the calling down of the Holy Spirit and the sealing, but by the sharing and union with the life creating Bread, which is in truth the Body of Christ in union with the blood.”
Rules for communion:
- All baptized Orthodox Christians including children & infants may receive.
- Prepared through confession and prayer as determined by one’s father confessor.
- Adults must fast for a minimum of 6 hours.
Since the Liturgy of the presanctified gifts is intended to be served in the evening, participation and reception of the Eucharistic gifts should come after a day of spiritual preparation and total abstinence. However, the faithful who are unable to fast the whole day are permitted to eat a lenten meal in the morning making sure to take no food or drink for six hours prior to communion.
1. Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts: http://www.oca.org
2. Saint Symeon of Thessalonike – Treatise on Prayer