St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

The Liturgy of the Presanctified

From "The Faith We Hold" by Archbishop Paul of Finland

The life of a Christian goes on from Eucharist to Eucharist. Participation in the Sacrament of Redemption on the Lord's Day is the climax of the week. Then the day is really holy: we meet the Risen Lord.

But Sunday is followed by the other days of the week. Early Church history tells us that the Christians felt such a longing to participate in the Lord's Supper that they did not always wait for the next Lord's Day. After the Age of the Martyrs was over and the Church began to enjoy more peaceful times, the practice of celebrating the Liturgy also on other days of the week especially on Saturdays, on days commemorating martyrs. and on other feasts, was introduced in many places. The story of Monica shows that the Eucharist was celebrated every day.

During Lent the Christians wanted to be strengthened through Holy Communion as often as possible. However, on weekdays in Lent, except Saturday, there was no celebration of the Eucharist since the Liturgy is always a festal service, not appropriate to fasting days. Thus it became customary to distribute on weekdays the Eucharistic Gifts which had been consecrated in the Liturgy of the previous Lord's Day. This Communion most often took place in a service called the Liturgy of the Presanctified, which was celebrated on Wednesday and Fridays. The Liturgy of the Presanctified is ascribed to the Roman Pope St. Gregory the Great, the "Dialogist"; the usual Liturgy of the Orthodox Church is associated with the names of St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom.

A special feature of the Liturgy of the Presanctified is that it is celebrated in the evening in connection with Vespers. The early Christians preparing to receive Communion at the Liturgy of the Presanctified fasted the whole day from morning till evening. Today complete fasting is prescribed starting from noon, so that after twelve o'clock we have nothing to eat or drink until after the evening Liturgy.

The evening Liturgies during Lent are important because members of the congregation who work in the daytime are also able to come. Thus as many people as possible can take part in these Lenten services of contrition and hope, and can receive Communion. These evening liturgies renew the ear!y Christian practice of receiving Communion in the evening. which is indicated by the name "Lord's Supper."