Orthodox Church of the Mother of God

Joy of all the Sorrowful - Mays Landing, NJ (f. 1966)

The Divine Liturgy

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The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.

The distinguishing characteristic of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is that the Eucharistic Canon is not served during its celebration but rather the faithful are communed with "Presanctified Gifts," gifts which were consecrated earlier at another Liturgy of either St. Basil the Great or St. John Chrysostom.

The Presanctified Liturgy originated in the first centuries of Christianity. The first Christians took communion frequently, some even on weekdays. However, it was considered improper to serve a full Liturgy on days of strict fasting, as they were days of grief and contrition for sins.

Since the Liturgy is the most magnificent of all the church services, in order to give the faithful the opportunity to receive Holy Communion on fast days in the middle of the week, without destroying the character of the divine services of Great Lent, they were provided with the Gifts consecrated earlier. For this reason the service of the Presanctified Gifts was introduced into the services of Great Lent. The definitive order of this Liturgy was put into written form by St. Gregory the Dialogist, the Pope of Rome in the sixth century.

The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is celebrated on Wednesdays and Fridays of the first six weeks of Great Lent, on Thursday of the fifth week, when the Great Canon of St. Andrew is commemorated, on February 24th, the commemoration of First and Second Findings of the Head of St. John the Baptist, sometimes on March 9th, the day commemorating the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, if it falls on a fast day, and not a Saturday or Sunday; and on the first three days of Passion Week (Great Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday).

The Presanctified Liturgy is served following the Lenten Hours and consists of Vespers joined to the Liturgy of the Faithful, with the omission of its central part, the sanctification of the gifts.

One kathisma is added to each of the Lenten Hours so that the Psalter might be read twice during the week rather than the usual once.

After the kathisma the priest leaves the altar and reads the tropar-ion of each hour in front of the Royal Doors with its corresponding verses, and makes appropriate prostrations while the choir chants this troparion three times.

In the troparion of the Third Hour we ask the Lord to not take from us, due to our sins, the Holy Spirit that He sent down upon His disciples.

In the troparion of the Sixth Hour we beseech Christ, Who voluntarily endured crucifixion on the Cross for us sinners, to forgive us our sins.

In the troparion of the Ninth Hour we beseech Christ, Who died for us, to mortify the sinful movements of our flesh.

At the end of each hour we read with prostrations the Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian: "O Lord and Master of my life..."

During the Sixth Hour there is a reading from the book of the Prophet Isaiah.

The Ninth Hour is followed by the Typica, and the Beatitudes are read along with the prayer of the repentant thief on the Cross, "Remember us, O Lord, when Thou comest into Thy kingdom." Then various prayers are read, followed by the Prayer of St. Ephraim and the Dismissal.

Immediately after this, Vespers with the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts begins with the exclamation, "Blessed is the kingdom of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages."

Up to the Entry the service proceeds in the usual order. After the Entry and "O Gentle Light" the reader goes to the center of the church and reads two lessons, one from the Book of Genesis relating to the fall of Adam and his unfortunate descendants, the other from the Proverbs of Solomon which exhorts one to seek and love divine wisdom. Between these two readings the Royal Gates are opened and the priest, holding a lit candle and censer, proclaims the words, "Wisdom! Aright!," blesses the faithful with them and says, "The light of Christ enlighteneth all."

In response, the faithful, recognizing their unworthiness before Christ, the pre-eternal Light which enlightens and sanctifies mankind, make a prostration to the floor.

Following the second reading, the Royal Gates are again opened, and in the center of the church, choir members slowly chant these Psalm verses:

"Let my prayer be set forth as incense before Thee, the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice.

"Lord, I have cried unto Thee, hearken unto me; attend to the voice of my supplication..."

During the chanting of these verses, the faithful are kneeling prostrate and the priest, standing before the Holy Table, censes.

Vespers concludes at this point with the Prayer of St. Ephraim, "O Lord and Master of my life...," and the main portion of the Presanctified Liturgy begins.

On the first three days of Passion Week (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday), after this prayer the Gospel is read. On other days the Augmented Litany and the Litanies of the Catechumens and of the Faithful are intoned as in a usual Liturgy.

During the Great Entry, instead of "Let us who represent the Cherubim..." the choir chants, "Now the powers of Heaven invisibly serve with us; for behold, the King of Glory entereth. Behold, the mystical sacrifice that hath been accomplished is escorted." During this hymn the Royal Gates are opened and the Altar is censed.

With the conclusion of the first half of this hymn, with the words "is borne in triumph," the Presanctified Gifts are transferred from the Table of Oblation to the Altar Table. The priest, with the Chalice, preceded by candles and the deacon with the censer, goes out through the north door on to the solea with the Diskos over his head, and silently bears them into the Sanctuary and places them on the Antimins which has been opened earlier on the Altar. Then the choir concludes the interrupted hymn, "With faith and love let us draw nigh that we may become partakers of life everlasting. Alleluia." Since the Sacred Gifts are already consecrated (transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ) the praying faithful fall prostrate during their transferal to the main altar. The priest then prays "O Lord and Master of my life..." after which the Royal Doors are closed.

Since at this Liturgy the consecration of the Gifts does not occur, all which relates to this sacred action is omitted. Thus, after the Great Entry only the three final portions of the Liturgy of the Faithful are celebrated: a) the preparation of the faithful for Communion, b) the communion of the clergy and the laity, and c) the thanksgiving for Communion with the dismissal. All are celebrated as during a full Liturgy with only minor alterations in accordance with the significance of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.

The Prayer before the Ambo differs in this Liturgy. The priest in the name of the faithful gives thanks to God, Who has deemed them worthy to reach the days of this fast for the purification of the soul and body, and requests that He give His help in accomplishing the good struggle of the fast, preserve them unchanged in the Orthodox Faith, manifest Himself as the conqueror of sin, and grant them uncondemned to worship the holy Resurrection of Christ.

 

(from: The Law of God by Fr. Seraphim Slobodskoy)

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