Melkite Greek Catholic Great Lent: Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts

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Date & Time: Wednesday, March 27, 2019
7:00 PM-8:00 PM

Suggested Audiences: Elders, Adult, College, High School, Middle School, Elementary, Preschool, Toddler, Infant
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Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church
256 Hamilton St.
Worcester, MA 01604
The first thing to be noted about the Byzantine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is that it is not a Divine Liturgy at all. This service is actually vespers to which is attached a distribution of the Eucharist sanctified at an earlier Divine Liturgy (i.e. Presanctified).

In the Byzantine tradition the Divine Liturgy is a celebration of the Kingdom of God made present among us by "the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the sitting at the right hand of the Father, and the second and glorious coming again" (Liturgy of St John Chrysostom). It is by definition a festive gathering: one that is not considered in keeping with the spirit of fasting.

Thus by the fourth century it had become customary to restrict the celebration of the Liturgy during the Great Fast to the Sabbath and the Lord's Day alone (Synod of Laodicea, canon 29), transferring saint's days to the weekends if need be.

The Eucharist, on the other hand, was long recognized as "the medicine of immortality: the antidote to prevent us from dying, causing that we should live forever in Jesus Christ" (St Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Ephesians). As such, Eucharistic Communion is particularly appropriate during the 40-day Fast. How then is this seeming contradiction to be resolved?

The Church's response is the Liturgy of the Presanctified, which was being used in Constantinople by the sixth century. The Council in Trullo (692) issued a canon confirming this custom, one which still governs our lenten practice: "On all the 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).This service is not the festive celebration of the Divine Liturgy but it allows those striving to keep the Great Fast to be strengthened by receiving Holy Communion.

Today the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is usually directed to be served on the Wednesdays and Fridays of the Great Fast and the first three days of Holy Week. There are still some places where this service is held daily, but since a day-long fast was customary whenever the Presanctified Liturgy was conducted, daily services are now generally held only in monasteries.

Until the twelfth century this service was attributed to various authors. Since then it has generally been ascribed to St Gregory the Dialogist, sixth-century Pope of Rome. Today it is thought that Gregory was simply recording the practice he had witnessed while serving as a papal legate in Constantinople.

The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts begins with vespers, which starts in the usual way (opening prayers, Psalm 103, great litany, kathisma or section of the psalter). During the kathisma the priest places the Eucharistic Lamb on the discos and prepares a chalice of unconsecrated wine. The lamplighting psalms with stichera, the entrance and the singing of O Joyful Light then follow, much as usual.

Every weekday during the Great Fast a special prokimenon is then sung, whether at vespers or the Presanctified Liturgy, and two Scripture readings follow. Then, while Lenten vespers would continue as usual, the Presanctified Liturgy now follows its own course. The priest solemnly incenses the holy table while the psalm verse "Let my prayer rise like incense before Yours is sung, followed in some churches by the prayer of St Ephrem the Syrian. During Great Week or on a saints day an epistle and/or Gospel selection is read. The rest of the service generally follows the structure of the Divine Liturgy with this all-important exception: there is no anaphora, because the holy gifts are already sanctified.

The Scriptures read at Lenten vespers or the Presanctified Liturgy derive from another ancient element of the Great Fast: the preparation of catechumens who would be baptized on Holy Saturday. The first reading (from Genesis) provides a basis for doctrinal catechesis while the second (from Proverbs) offers moral instruction. Reading the book of Genesis takes us back to our roots: we hear of our creation in the image of God, the sin of our first parents, and the downward spiral of mankind culminating in the flood. We hear of God's unwavering love for us in His covenants with Noah, with Abraham and the patriarchs. Despite their failings and infidelities, God is always faithful.

Our readings from Genesis end with the Israelites in Egypt. During Holy Week we pick up the book of Exodus and read the story of Moses and the Passover of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to freedom, which brings us to the New Passover, Christ, who passes from death to life, bringing us with Him to the resurrection. -

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Entered by: Kathleen Laplante (

Created: March 18, 2019 at 2:13 PM
Last Modified: March 30, 2019 at 7:50 PM

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