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Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts

As we already have seen, the eucharis­tic 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 Sun­day at the cel­e­bra­tion of the Divine Litur­gy, unless, of course, the feast of the Annun­ci­a­tion should inter­vene; 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. It comes in the evening after a day of spir­i­tu­al prepa­ra­tion and total absti­nence. The faith­ful who are unable to make the effort of total fast­ing because of weak­ness or work, how­ev­er, nor­mal­ly eat a light lenten meal in the ear­ly morning.

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 Gen­e­sis and 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 Easter—who 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 34: “0 taste and see how good is the Lord. 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.

The Litur­gy of the Pre­sanc­ti­fied Gifts is tra­di­tion­al­ly con­sid­ered to be the work of the sixth-cen­tu­ry pope, Saint Gre­go­ry of Rome. The present ser­vice, how­ev­er, is obvi­ous­ly the inspired litur­gi­cal cre­ation of Chris­t­ian Byzantium