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Choral Corner #15: What is the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts?

The Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is a uniquely Lenten form of the Divine Liturgy that is actually not a Liturgy at all, as there is no consecration, but rather a modified form of Lenten Daily Vespers with the reception of Holy Communion at the end. It is sometimes attributed to St. Gregory Dialogos (+604), but he likely did not invent this service himself, but rather was the first document (and perhaps modify) an already-existing liturgical practice. This service is prescribed on Wednesdays and Fridays of Great Lent, on the feast days of Polyeleos-rank saints, and on the first three days of Holy Week.

The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts provides a fitting solution to what would otherwise be a serious Lenten dilemma: frequent Communion sanctifies and strengthens us in our spiritual struggle, but the extremely festal character of the Divine Liturgy is somewhat at odds with the penitential atmosphere of Great Lent, especially if it were to be celebrated on Wednesdays and Fridays of that season (days on which, even outside of Lent, we commemorate the betrayal and crucifixion of Christ, respectively), in addition to Sundays. At the Presanctified Liturgy, the faithful partake of Eucharistic elements that were consecrated at the previous Sunday's Divine Liturgy, allowing for more frequent reception of the Holy Mysteries while preserving the somber Lenten character of "bright sadness".

The Orthodox Vespers service is replete with Old Testament imagery, calling to mind creation, the fall, the explusion from paradise, and the contrite hope of faithful people who lived before Christ's Incarnation. In the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, these biblical events (and the lives of those who lived them) are beautifully interwoven with and connected to the salvation realized in the New Testament. For example, before the first Old Testament reading, the priest opens the Royal Doors, blesses the faithful with the censer and a candle, and exclaims, "Wisdom! The Light of Christ illumineth all," indicating that the souls of the devout who lived before Christ were saved by faith in His coming, just as we are saved by faith in His Resurrection.

Because the gifts are already consecrated with this service begins, the pre-Communion portion of the Presanctified Liturgy differs substantially from that of other Liturgies. Instead of the Cherubic Hymn, the choir sings: Now the pow'rs of Heaven minister invisibly with us, for behold: the King of Glory enters. Lo, the Mystical Sacrifice, all fulfilled, is ushered in. Let us in faith and love draw near, that we may be partakers of eternal life. Alleluia. This departure from the regular Cherubic Hymn is significant, because when the Presanctified Great Entrance takes place, the King of Glory truly and literally enters in, as the Eucharist is already consecrated.

Another distinctive characteristic is the absence of an anaphora (the portion of the Divine Liturgy during which the Eucharistic elements are consecrated), and the Communion hymn unique to this service: O, taste and see that the Lord is good. Alleluia.

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