of the Presanctified Gifts.
Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts may be characterized, without
exaggeration, as the heart, the center of the services of Great Lent. In some ancient manuscripts
of the service books, it is known as the “Liturgy of the Great Quadragesima.”
In fact, it is the service which best typifies this sacred time of the year.
The essence of this service is revealed in its very name: it is the “Liturgy
of Gifts Presanctified.” This distinguishes it from the liturgies
of St. Basil the Great and of St. John Chrysostom, in which the Eucharist, the
offering and sanctification of the Gifts, takes place. During the
“Liturgy of the Great Quadragesima” we are offered the Holy Gifts
“pre-sanctified,” i.e. already sanctified at a liturgy served
on a previous day. These Holy Gifts are offered to us that we might
have the opportunity to commune of them and be sanctified by them. In
other words, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts 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.
In order to understand why a rite of Communion of pre-sanctified Holy Gifts
came into being, one must consider its history. Its roots lie in the ancient
practice of the Church. In the early centuries of Christian history, the
faithful approached to receive the Holy Gifts at each Liturgy.
It was even a practice among the faithful, when there was no weekday liturgy,
that they would privately commune of Holy Gifts left over from the Sunday
liturgy. On this foundation, a special rite of prayer crystallized
within the monasteries: all of the monastics would pray together before Communion,
and afterwards, together they would thank God, Who had enabled them to be
Communicants of the Holy Mysteries. This would be done either after
Vespers or after the Ninth Hour (about 3:00 PM). In time, this rule
of prayer took on the form of a short service, somewhat similar to the rite
of the Liturgy. Thus developed what we now call the “Order of
the Typica,” in contemporary practice served after the Sixth and Ninth
Hours. The very name “Typica” points to the fact that in
some measure this short service typifies the Liturgy. It is in this
sense a precursor to our Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.
During Great Lent, the full Divine Liturgy is served only on Saturdays and
church practice, confirmed in the canons of the Councils, forbids the serving
of Liturgies on weekdays during Great Lent, inasmuch as those days are entirely
dedicated to fasting and repentance. Service of the Divine Liturgy would
be incompatible with the mournful character of such days. The Liturgy is
a Paschal Mystery, a Feast of the Church, filled with joy and spiritual jubilation.
As St. Basil the Great states, the faithful of that time were used to receiving
Communion not only on Saturdays and Sundays, but also at least twice during the
week - on Wednesdays and Fridays. Therefore, the question arose: How could they
commune outside the Liturgy? The answer had already been provided: they
could commune of the Holy Gifts sanctified at one of the earlier Liturgies.
In those days, fasting meant complete abstinence from food until sunset,
and Communion of the Holy Gifts was the crown, the end, of the Lenten day.
For this reason, on those weekdays, it took place after Vespers.
The rite of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts consists of Vespers, at
the conclusion of which the Holy, Presanctified Gifts are offered, and the
prayers before Communion are read. Communion itself takes place, and is followed
by prayers of thanksgiving. The service’s connection to Great Lent
is reflected in its special “mournful” character.
The Altar Table and sacred vessels containing the Holy Gifts are covered
with dark-colored vestments. Prayers are read with a sense of humility
and tenderness. Overall, the entire service is marked by a special
sense of mystery.