A Summary and Outline of Presanctified

Service Texts For Lent

One of the oldest traditions in the Orthodox Church, the service of the presanctified liturgy is celebrated every Wednesday. Many parishes also celebrate presanctified on Fridays if they do not celebrate the Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos.  Presanctified can be better though of as a vespers services with prayers and communion as you will soon see. The liturgy is rich with Old Testament literature and like compline, filled with prayers of repentance.

Why do we celebrate presanctified?

The purpose of the presanctified liturgy is to provide the faithful the opportunity to receive spiritual sustenance during the fast with communion. The church viewed a regular liturgy as out of sync with the spirit of Lent, and so prescribes this solemn service in order to continue to receive communion without the full sense of a celebration like on Sundays.

History, Authorship, Antiquity

Historically, thanks to traditions being passed down through common knowledge and oral history, it is a difficult piece to pin down. We know for a fact that the per-sanctified liturgy itself was used as early as 692 when it was decreed by the Council of Trullo that the liturgy would be served during the weekdays of Lent. (See the canons from this council) We also have record of pre-sanctified being celebrated as early as the early 600’s in writings of St. Gregory the Diologist. Some have attributed authorship to him, although others will argue this is not the case and he was only an observer of what occurred in Constantinople.  Authorship has even been attributed to St. Basil, St Epiphanius, St Germanus and even some of the apostles. It has been generally agreed upon that the true authorship is still unknown.

There is another interesting article with some history here. Most notably, it remarks that the hymn “now the powers of heaven” existed as early as 616!

Outline of the Service of the Presanctified Gifts

Part I – Vespers

Pre-sanctified begins similar to a Vespers service with Psalm 103 “Bless the Lord Oh my Soul” meanwhile the priest quietly reads the lamp-lighting prayers.

We then move on to the great litany followed by the entire kathismata 18 (Psalms 119-133) The three stanzas of this kathismata are broken up by the little litany.  The kathismatas are the sections of the book of psalms broken up in such a way that the entire Psalter is read during the course of the week. There is a Kathismata assigned to the various daily services. If you go to a monastery you will hear the kathismata read. Within parish practice we ten to skip over the kathismatas; although I have heard it done in at least one parish.

Yet again, just like vespers, we then move to “Oh Lord I have Cried” with the appropriate verses from the psalms and hymns for the day.

As in vespers there is an entrance followed by the recitation of “Oh Gladsome light” if you attended Forgiveness Sunday Vespers, this was the last time the hymn is sung until Pascha. We have moved into a more somber time period and so this hymn is read during the week.

The readings come next from Genesis and Proverbs.

Let my prayer Arise is sung with the appropriate verses from psalm 141

Part II – The Liturgy

We then proceed to a number of litanies: the litany of supplication, the litany of the catechumens and the first and second litany of the faithful. The litany of the catechumens used to be prayed at every Liturgy but is now exclusively heard at pre-sanctified in most parishes. Historically it was after this litany that the catechumens were required to leave the church as the service transitioned into the Liturgy of the Faithful and the consecration and receiving of communion.  Everything in the service prior to this point was seen as instruction, everything after this point is in direct relation to communion itself.

At this point the service becomes akin to a Liturgy in certain regards.

What is normally the “Great Entrance” is replaced by a much more somber and reverend procession of the priest, with his head covered. This is because the gifts are already the Body and Blood of Christ. Because of their Holiness the priest processes as the faithful kneel in reverence.

We then move to the prayer of St Ephraim, litany before the Lords Prayer,  the Lord’s Prayer itself, preparation for communion and communion itself.  After the post-communion hymns, the service is again very similar to a normal Sunday liturgy.

After the dismissal psalms 33 and 144 are recited.