The Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts
“May my prayer come before You like incense and the lifting up of my hands be the an evening sacrifice” (Psalm 141:2)
I heard these words as I celebrated Presanctified Liturgy and a deep sense of the season we are in came over me. These words are sung during the Great Prokiemen. The altar corners are slowly incensed, the smoke of incense rises, and the words are sung to a most moving melody. For me, it is a highlight of our Lenten worship.
These words really hit me this past week. I realized that I live in a culture, which surrounds me with subtle and blatant temptations to do evil. At this time in the Liturgy we pray to be delivered from the evil, which surrounds us and “set a guard over my mouth, O Lord, keep watch over the door of my lips”. So often speech is used as a weapon to intimidate, a tool for manipulating others.
The season of the Great Fast attempts to focus our mind, body, and heart on the saving actions of Christ. During this time there is a more somber tome for our liturgical chant, dark colors are used, there are deep prostrations made, specific services are celebrated only at this time of the Great Fast.
The Presanctified Liturgy is one of these services. It is of ancient origin, used to mark the weekdays of the Great Fast, when no Divine Liturgy should be celebrated. The Church sees in the celebration of the Eucharist the joyful witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the fourth century it was decreed that the Eucharistic Liturgy is not to be celebrated during the weekdays of the Great Fast because of the triumphant nature of the Divine Liturgy. The reserved Body of Christ is to be set aside to be given to the faithful during the somber weekdays of the Fast. The Presanctified Gifts are to give us strength as we go through the difficult Lenten days. During this time we struggle to reorient our lives to God so that we may more fully share in Christ’s Resurrection.