A reference point in the typiko of Great Lent is the communion of the Presanctified Precious Gifts. The discordance between the festal and joyful nature of the celebration of the Divine Eucharist and the compunction of Great Lent makes it inappropriate to celebrate the bloodless sacrifice on fast days. And yet, the importance of Holy Communion for the spiritual struggle of the faithful has established participation in the Presanctified Gifts even on such days.
The difference between the Presanctified Liturgy and the more common types of the Eucharist is that the Precious Gifts have already been sanctified as Body and Blood earlier, at the Divine Liturgy on the previous Saturday or Sunday. At the proskomidi, the celebrant takes out a second lamb [central portion of the loaf], which he places with the first on the paten. He sanctifies and elevates this as normal, and, after pouring the warm water into the chalice, immerses the second lamb in the precious blood and places it carefully in a special artoforio or tabernacle [a vessel kept on the holy alter where the reserved gifts are kept] until the day when the Presanctified is to take place.
The service of the reception of the Presanctified Gifts is not contained in the seven services celebrated during the day and night, nor is it a Divine Liturgy, but simply a way of distributing the Precious Gifts, and is attached to Vespers. The singing of the ancient hymn “Now the powers…” marks the join between the two services. What happens before the hymn is Vespers and then after the hymn we move into the Presanctified.
The timing of the Presanctified on the evening of Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent was preferred because of the all-day fast on these days until the time for Vespers, so that after receiving the Precious Gifts, the faithful were able to consume food. In parish practice, the communion of the Presanctified Gifts is often transposed to the morning, on the one hand because it is impossible for the faithful to maintain a strict fast, and, on the other, because of the habit of celebrating the bloodless sacrifice in the morning hours. Because of the change of time of the Presanctified, Vespers has also been moved to the morning, since the two services are combined. This is why it has become customary for Vespers to be celebrated in the morning during Lent, whether or not it is followed by the Presanctified. Other days when the Presanctified is regularly held are the Thursday of fifth week (Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete), the first three days of Great Week and the days when saints are commemorated.
In olden times, the Presanctified Gifts were given on the Wednesday and Friday of Cheese Week, and also on Good Friday. To this day, the Divine Liturgy cannot be celebrated in its entirety on these days, according to the old practice of the Church of Jerusalem. A remnant of the old custom is the addition to the Triodio of a reading from the Old Testament at Vespers in the two days of Cheese week. In the Byzantine era, there was communion of the Presanctified Gifts on every Wednesday and Friday of the year. Indeed, in the 10th century, communion of the Presanctified Gifts was optional in Constantinople.
In accordance with the old custom, a Presanctified Liturgy could also be held on the feast of the Elevation of the Precious Cross, instead of the full Divine Eucharist of Saint John Chrysostom which is celebrated today. The reason for this is to be found in the sombre character of the feast of the Elevation of the Cross, which is the equivalent of Good Friday, when there is a similar interdiction on the celebration of the Divine Eucharist. It also used to be the case that the Presanctified was held on the feast of the Annunciation, but canon 52 of the Quinisext Synod exempted that day, as well as Saturdays and Sundays, from the necessity to hold the Presanctified, intimating that the full Divine Eucharist could be celebrated.
The composition of the Presanctified Liturgy is attributed to a number of Church Fathers, among whom were Epifanios of Cyprus, Yermanos of Constantinople and Pope Gregory the Dialogist. Also, in codex 766 of the national Library in Athens (16th century), there is indirect testimony to the fact that it is a product of the pen of Saint Gregory the Theologian. In particular, the codex states that at the end of the Presanctified Liturgy, we have the dismissal hymn and kontakio of Saint Gregory the Theologian, probably because of confusion with the Dialogist. Ioannis Foundoulis prefers that no tropario of any saint be sung, but rather that, after “Glory. Both now”, we should immediately have the tropario “At the prayer, Lord”. However that may be, the author is not known today. According to P. Trembelas, the attribution to Saint Gregory the Dialogist is most likely due to the fact that he was responsible for popularizing it in the West, since he introduced it into the form of service for Good Friday in the Church of Rome, according to the Roman rule.
Briefly, the structure of the service of the Presanctified is as follows. Essentially, it begins with the readings and the “Let my prayer” in Vespers and with the prayers for the catechumens and the faithful. Then comes the singing of “Now the powers”, and the celebrant censes the congregation. In the middle of this, we have the Entrance of the Holy Gifts, after which the hymn is completed. This is followed by a litany, the prayer “by placing the holy gifts on the holy altar”, the Lord’s Prayer, the two prayers of bowing the head and the exclamation “Let us attend. The Presanctified holy things to those who are holy”. Thereafter, the structure of the Presanctified is identical to that of the Divine Eucharist, with only a few differences in hymns and prayers. These are: a) instead of “We have seen the light”, we sing “I will bless the Lord”; b) the prayer read before the icon of Christ is “Almighty Lord” and c) the antidoro is given before the end of the service, “Through the prayers”, while psalms 33 and 144 are read. The last is the old order of service not only for the Presanctified but for the full Liturgy, too.
The availability of the Presanctified Gifts demonstrates the Church’s desire to meet the spiritual needs of its members. As the prime expression of the sacramental community, the Holy Eucharist is a necessary feature of the life of the faithful. Its absence would weaken the bond of the faithful with the Eucharistic assembly, but its presence, even through the dispensation of having the Presanctified, fortifies the faithful in prayer and fasting during the bright sadness that is Lent.