A History of the Presanctified Gifts Liturgy

As we learn from church historians and liturgical theologians, the practices and rituals of the Orthodox Church have undergone significant changes through the centuries.   Liturgical changes can occur in the church for practical reasons, due to changing historical circumstances, because understandings of rites and rituals change, or to better serve and instruct the faithful.  The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is very identified with Great Lent and is served on certain weekdays throughout Lent.  Like all Orthodox services it has undergone numerous changes.  This is to be expected in a church which is a living body and responds to both the needs of its members as well as to the ever-changing world in which we witness to Christ.  Archimandrite Job Getcha writes about the Liturgy:

“We should be aware of the fact that, from the origin of the Presanctified Liturgy around the sixth century, and until the ninth century, not only was the consecrated bread preserved, but also a chalice containing the consecrated wine. They were kept on the prosthesis table, from which they were again placed on the altar table during the great entrance of the Presanctified Liturgy. As a result of the difficulty and the danger of keeping a chalice full of consecrated wine, the practice of intincting the consecrated bread with the consecrated wine appeared, probably in the ninth century, in southern Italy. Only in the fifteenth century was this practice adopted in Constantinople and in the Byzantine world.”

So the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts changed because of very practical concerns:  keeping a full chalice of the consecrated Blood of Christ was risky due to the threat of spilling the chalice.  So our current practice of intinction – keeping the consecrated Body  with small amounts of the Blood of Christ on it – was introduced to deal with a problem created by a liturgical practice.  The need for the liturgy with the Presanctified Gifts was itself the result of other liturgical piety that had changed and become regulated by canon law in 692AD.

“This Constantinopolitan practice was established by Canon 52 of the Council in Trullo, which states:

On the days of Great Lent, except on Saturdays, Sundays, and the holy day of Annunciation, no liturgy may be celebrated except that of the Presanctified Gifts.

As M. Arranz explains:

In the seventh century, the reception of communion must have been considered as breaking the fast; also, because the Eucharistic liturgy (apart from the great vigils of Christmas, Epiphany, and Easter, as well as the completely exceptional day of Holy Thursday) was celebrated only during the morning hours, Canon 52 of Trullo, while admitting the exception of Annunciation, fixes the time of communions from the Presanctified gifts at the end of the day, even after vespers, to ensure the seriousness of the fast during Great Lent. ”

(The Typikon Decoded, p 161 & 170)

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