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Why the Presanctified Liturgy?

Great Lent is the only time throughout the ecclesiastical year that presanctified liturgies are celebrated. Yet, many wonder exactly what is the Presanctified Liturgy and why it is celebrated?
 
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts (Θεία Λειτουργία των Προηγιασμένων) is celebrated every Wednesday and Friday and on the 5th Thursday of Great Lent. Additionally, it is celebrated on the mornings of Holy Monday through Holy Wednesday.
 
The origins of the Presanctified Liturgy trace back to St Gregory the Dialogist (Gregory the Great) who was Pope of Rome from 590 to 604 AD. Reigning in the Post-Constantinian era, during which Christianity was not only legal but, on the rise. Pope Gregory saw the pastoral need of the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts. As the faithful grew in number, so did the demand for the administration of sacraments, including the Eucharist. 
 
Pope Gregory is among the Latin Fathers perhaps closest to the Greeks. He was indeed a bridge builder between the Latin West and the Greek East. He is known for his literary works in pastoral care, especially: The Book of Pastoral Rule
 
Yet, it was not until about a hundred years after Saint Gregory’s reign as Pope that the Quinsext Council in Constantinople (also known as Council in Trullo) was convened, in 692 AD. At that Council, Presanctified Liturgies became a standard during Great Lent.
 
Canon 52 of the Quinsext Council decreed: On all days of the holy fast of Lent, except on the Sabbath [i.e., Saturday], the Lord's Day [Sunday], and the holy day of the Annunciation, the Liturgy of the Presanctified is to be served.
 
On Saturdays during Great Lent and Saturday of Lazarus, the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom is celebrated. On the five Sundays of Great Lent, Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday, the Liturgy of St Basil is celebrated. 
 
The reason why Presanctified Liturgies were prescribed was due to the penitential nature of Great Lent. Let us remember that on Cheesefare Sunday, the day before Great Lent begins, Adam and Eve are expelled from Paradise. Great Lent is ushered in with mankind being in exile throughout its duration, in anticipation of the redemption and salvation of humanity via Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection.
 
Since we are in exile, in a state of penitence, we are limited to our access to the Eucharist which is the Body and Blood of our Savior Jesus Christ. The week prior to Great Lent is like a pre-Lent period, preparatory period for Lent, when on Wednesday and Friday of that week, the Divine Liturgy is not celebrated. There are only Old Testament readings read on those specific days.
 
Beginning on Cheesefare Sunday and all Sundays leading up to and including Palm Sunday, the celebrant at the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts will consecrate one or more extra Host or Lamb (Άμνος) which is cut out from the sacrificial bread or πρόσφορο. The consecration of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ while retaining the properties of both bread and wine, occurs at the point of the Liturgy known as the επίκλησις. There is no consecration of the Holy Gifts at a Presanctified Liturgy.
 
After the consecration of the Holy Gifts at Liturgy on Sunday, the celebrant will then pour some of the consecrated wine, now the Blood of Christ, onto the Άμνος or Άμνοι which are then carried by a small procession from the front of the Holy Table to the side of the Holy Table where they will remain until Wednesday. 
 
At the Presanctified Liturgy on Wednesday, usually as the psalms of the 3rd Stanza are being read, the celebrant will make a small procession, transferring the already consecrated Gifts from the Holy Table to the Prothesis or Oblation Table where the celebrant will prepare the consecrated Gifts for the Great Entrance.
 
The Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts has similarities and differences to both the Liturgies of Chrysostom and Basil.
 
The similarities include: the litanies, the Great Entrance, recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and Communion Hymn. Just like with the Liturgies of Basil and Chrysostom, catechumens are asked to depart before the Great Entrance. However, with the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, the litanies for the catechumens are extensive, especially after the 3rd week of Lent. 
 
It was a tradition in the early centuries of the Church, for the catechumens to prepare for illumination, thus, baptism, during Lent and then be baptized on Holy Saturday, in time to receive Holy Communion for Pascha.
 
Some differences between the Divine Liturgy and Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts are: there is no singing of the Trisagion, no recitation of the Creed and no anaphora (eucharistic prayer) in the Presanctified Liturgy. With the exception of Holy Week, only Old Testament readings are read at the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts. 
 
The purpose of the Presanctified Liturgy is the ability for the faithful to receive the Eucharist, Christ Himself, during the arduous week of fasting. Lent is a journey, certainly one of temptation and struggle and our aim is Christ. For many, the inability to receive the Eucharist during weekdays can be spiritually challenging which is why the opportunity to commune two of the five days is a blessing.
 
Just before the 2nd Old Testament reading at the Presanctified Liturgy, the celebrant from the Royal Doors of the altar, with a candle in his right hand, exclaims: Wisdom. Arise. The light of Christ shines upon all. 
 
In the midst of darkness, suddenly the Light of Christ disseminates, overcoming the darkness. This is a prelude to Pascha, when likewise, in the midst of darkness, suddenly the celebrant proceeds from the Royal Doors with the Paschal candle. Very quickly, the entire Church fills up with light and darkness is extinguished.
 
Although there are several contributors to the composition of the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts, St Gregory is traditionally ascribed as its author. The same applies to the other liturgies. Basil’s liturgy is older than Chrysostom’s and certainly serves as a source for the latter. Furthermore, both these great Hierarchs use the more ancient Liturgy of St James as a source. 
 
A Blessed and Fruitful Lent to All!
 
-John Athanasatos 
 

A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.

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