What is the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts?
On Friday I attended a liturgy of the presanctified gifts. Even though it was completely in Church Slavonic, it's easy to establish that it's quite different from a normal liturgy. There are quite a few prostrations for a start. But what is it? And how did it come to be part of our Lenten devotions? Well, with the help of OCA, OrthoChristian, Orthodox Wiki and Ancient Faith Radio, I've pieced a few things together on this subject.
First of all: How does it get its name? Well, the gifts aren't consecrated during the liturgy, but during the previous Sunday's Divine liturgy, so that the liturgy of the presanctified gifts can be served on a Wednesday or Friday during Lent.
Why? The Divine Liturgy is festal in nature and expresses thanksgiving. It is therefore not conducive to weekdays during a time of fasting and repentance, although it is desirable to continue to take communion as much as possible during Holy Lent. Therefore the ancient liturgy of the presanctified gifts is served. It is first found in the canons in the seventh century, indicating that it is much older. The composition used now is believed to be the work of St. Gregory the Dialogist (AD 540-604).
What happens during a liturgy of the presanctified gifts?
The order of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is as follows: After the intonement of the priest “Blessed is the Kingdom,” the 103rd Psalm “Bless the Lord, O my soul” is read. The Great Litany is then intoned and the 18th Kathismata (Psalms 119–133) is read. Then the choir sings “Lord I have called unto Thee” with stichera (these are a type of hymn used mainly in Vespers and Matins). The priest makes an entrance with the censor. The choir sings “O Joyful Light,” and the first Paremiae (a selection from the Bible, in this case the book of Genesis) is read. When the priest intones, “Wisdom, let us attend. The Light of Christ enlightens all,” those praying prostrate themselves. The second Paremiae (a selection from the book of Proverbs) is read.
Then a trio sings a spiritually moving prayer “Let my prayer arise as incense before Thee,” (Psalm 141) after which the prayer of St. Ephraim is read. After a litany the choir sings, “Now the powers of Heaven (referring to the angels) with us invisibly worship,” as follows:
Now the heavenly powers 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...
and at this point the Great entrance with the Presanctified Gifts takes place. The prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian is repeated, and the Litany of Petition is proclaimed. The choir sings the Lord’s Prayer, after which the priest intones, “The Presanctified Holy Things (Communion) are for the holy.” The Holy Sacraments are brought out through the Royal Gates, and the believers receive Holy Communion. After the Litany of Thanksgiving and the prayer before the Ambo ("Every good and perfect gift is from above..."), the believers venerate the Holy Cross.
The liturgy of the presancitfied gifts is, in effect, an abridged liturgy combined with Vespers and is therefore usually served in the evenings. The next one in my parish on Wednesday will, indeed, be at 5pm, but the one I attended on Friday was at 10am, so there are always exceptions!
If you have the opportunity during this Great Lent to attend a liturgy of the presanctified gifts, please do so - it is truly beautiful, as well as providing spiritual strength at this time. Those who are to take communion but have to work during the day may have a light lenten meal early in the morning.
May God grant many blessings to all as we continue our spiritual journey to Pascha!