Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts

The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts (Slavonic: Liturgija Preždeoscjaščénnych Darov) is a service unique to the Byzantine Rite. It is celebrated during the Great Fast, and provides the faithful with the opportunity to receive Holy Communion on those days when then the Eucharistic Sacrifice is not celebrated. The word "presanctified" indicates that the "gifts" (the Body and Blood of Christ) which are distributed at the service are those consecrated at a previous celebration of the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom or the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great.

The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is celebrated on the Wednesdays and Fridays of the Great Fast, the evenings of certain major feast days during the Fast, and the first three days of Great and Holy Week. Where there is a custom or pastoral need, it may be celebrated on any weekday (Monday through Friday) of the Great Fast.

This service is not celebrated on Saturday or Sunday (the regular Eucharistic days in the Byzantine tradition) or on the one great feast which falls during the Fast: the feast of the Annunciation (March 25). On these days, the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom or of Saint Basil is celebrated, and the celebrant consecrates additional Gifts to be distributed during the following week at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.

This article provides a summary outline of the service, and some comments about its celebration in parishes. For a cantor's guide and a discussion of the chants of the service, see Singing the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.

NOTE: In the liturgical books, this service is actually referred to as a Divine Liturgy (Božéstvennaja Slúžba). In English, these words usually refer to the Eucharistic sacrifice, with a consecration of bread and wine which become the Body and Blood of Christ. Therefore, in discussions in English, the word "Divine" is often omitted from the title of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, in order to avoid confusion.

Outline of the service

The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is a fusion of three elements: the celebration of Great Vespers, a Constantinopolitan "cathedral" vigil service, and a service of Holy Communion. This combined service allows the faithful to break their fast on the strictest fasting days of Lent with the reception of Holy Communion. It is held in the evening because the traditional fast continues through the end of the day (at sunset)

In the following table, color (shading) is used to indicate the three major parts of the service.

Blessing by priest: "Blessed is the Kingdom..."
Psalm 103: "Bless the Lord, O my soul"
Litany of Peace
The Gradual Psalms (Psalms 119-133)
Small Litany (usually omitted)
 The Lamp-lighting Psalms: Psalms 140, 141, 129 and 116, with ten stichera
The Hymn of the Evening: "O joyful light"
with solemn entrance of clergy into the Holy Place (sanctuary)
First Prokeimenon
Lesson from the Book of Genesis (in Holy Week, from Exodus)
Second Prokeimenon
Blessing with candle and censer: "The light of Christ shines upon everyone."
Lesson from the Book of Proverbs (in Holy Week, from Job)
Solemn Evening Psalm: "Let my prayer ascend to You like incense"
On feast days: Prokeimenon, Epistle, Alleluia, and Gospel reading
During Holy Week: Gospel reading (only)
Sermon or Homily
Litany of Fervent Supplication
Litany for the Departed
Litany for the Catechumens
Litany for those about to be enlightened (baptized)
Litany of the Faithful
Great Entrance with the Presanctified Gifts
Litany of Supplication (Angel of Peace Litany)
The Lord's Prayer
Distribution of Holy Communion
Hymn of Thanksgiving: "We give You thanks, O Christ our God"
Prayer of Thanksgiving
Prayer before the Ambon
Blessing by priest

The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is not normally combined with any other service.

Texts and sources

The official Church Slavonic texts for the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts can be found in the Ruthenian Služébnik (for the priest and deacon).  These texts must be supplemented from the Triodion, and (on a small number of feast days) from the Menaion.

In 2010, the Council of Hierarchs of the Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Church of Pittsburgh published official books for this service. These books may be purchased from the Byzantine Seminary Press; at this time, they are not available in electronic form. (For a comparison of the 2010 Presanctified books with previous versions used in our churches, see this article.)

Unfortunately, the book "with music" also contains an unusually large numbers of typographic errors and missing notations. We strongly recommend that before leading the singing at the Presanctified Liturgy, all cantors consult the Errata page and make any necessary corrections to their books. (This is important for the cantor leading the service, but less critical for the books used by the faithful.)

The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts in the Parish

In Europe and North America, the celebration of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts largely died out in the course of the 20th century, being replaced by daily celebrations of the ordinary Divine Liturgy during the Great Fast, in imitation of Roman Catholic practice. (In the Christian West, the Eucharist or Mass is celebrated more frequently during the Fast, with appointed texts for each day, while in the Byzantine Rite, the weekdays of the fast are "aliturgical" - that is, the Eucharist is not to be celebrated.) During the 1980's and 1990's witnessed a re-appearance of this service in parishes across the Byzantine Catholic Church.

The particular law of the Byzantine Catholic Church sui juris of Pittsburgh (promulgated in June 1999) urged the celebration of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, in place of the un-traditional weekday Divine Liturgy:

Canon 710, §5. ... Rather than the Divine Liturgy, the Office of the Presanctified Gifts, preferably celebrated in the evening, is prescribed for the ordinary weekdays of the Great Fast.

Many parishes celebrate this service twice each week, while others (especially those that share a pastor with another parish) may celebrate it only once. On weekdays when the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gift is not celebrated, other devotions (such as the Moleben to the Cross, or the service of the Akathist to the Mother of God) may be held.

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