The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts

The Divine Liturgy is a festive and joyous celebration. It is an occasion for expressing joy and as such is somewhat incompatible with the somber character of the weekdays during the Holy Great Fast.   Thus in keeping with the penitential and ascetical character of the weekdays of the Great Fast , while still recognizing our spiritual need of being fed with the Divine Eucharist, our Church therefore offers the faithful a Communion service–the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts be celebrated on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout Lent.

The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts strikes the perfect balance necessary for the season of the Great Fast. It may be characterized, without exaggeration, as the heart, the center, of the services of Great Lent.  This beautiful service with its unique music, is essentially not a “liturgy” in the sense of the Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom or St. Basil the Great, but is rather a special rite of Communion.

This liturgy provides us with the much needed spiritual Food of the Holy Eucharist, yet it maintains the penitential character of the season. It is meant to strengthen us as we travel the Lenten journey. During this service there is no consecration of Eucharistic gifts. Holy Communion is reserved from the previous Sunday’s Divine Liturgy; therefore the term “presanctified” is used.

This liturgy takes place in the context of Vespers. As the congregation kneels during the psalms of Vespers, the presanctified gifts are prepared for communion. They are transferred from the tabernacle on the altar where they have been reserved since the Divine Liturgy, and are placed on the table of preparation. After the evening hymn, Old Testament scriptures usually of Genesis and Proverbs are read, between which the priest blesses the congregation with a lighted candle and the words: “The Light of Christ enlightens all”, indicating that all wisdom is given by Christ in the Church through the scriptures and sacraments.

After the readings, the evening Psalm 141 is solemnly sung with the offering of incense. It consists of a solemn incensing of the altar together with fervent prayer while we kneel. We pray to be made worthy of receiving the Body and Blood of the King. The rising incense reminds us of our prayer rising to the throne of the King.

Then, after the litanies of intercession, the presanctified Eucharistic gifts are brought to the altar in a solemn, silent procession. This is very solemn entrance, which we greet on our knees, for it is not bread and wine that is carried in, but the Lord Himself who comes as food for all to bring eternal life.   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: O 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 of purification of our souls and bodies, for control of our passions and for hope in the Resurrection…to fight the good fight, to run the course of the fast, to keep the faith…to attain without reproach the worship of your holy resurrection.

The Presanctified Liturgy gives us a profound sense of the great reverence that is due our God. The service’s connection to The Great Fast is reflected in its special “mournful” character. The Altar Table and sacred vessels containing the Holy Gifts are covered with dark – coloured vestments. Prayers are read with a sense of humility and tenderness. Overall, the entire service is marked by a special sense of mystery. We join all the saints who are around the throne of God, falling down before Him and giving Him glory!

The Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts instructs and fortifies us in our Lenten journey to Holy Pascha.  It is an integral part of the spiritual journey taken during the Holy Great Forty-Days Fast. By hearing the Word, we are instructed as to what God expects of us; and by participating in the Eucharistic Banquet, we are given the spiritual Food that fortifies us in order to accomplish our goal.

The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is celebrated every Wednesday and Friday during Great Fast.  It is also celebrated on Monday-Wednesday of Holy Week. 

Adapted with appreciation from:
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts by Steven Puluka 
Orthodox Church in America at liturgy-of-the-presanctified-gifts