Tuesday, March 04, 2014

The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts: Guest Article by Dr. Kyle Washut

We are grateful once again to Dr. Kyle Washut of Wyoming Catholic College for a new series of articles on one of the most beautiful aspects of the Byzantine Rite, the Lenten Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.
This year, the date of Easter is the same for both the Julian calendar and the Gregorian calendar, so the Church is taking air into both lungs as she prepares to dive into Great Lent. Last week, those who observe the Byzantine tradition have already stopped eating meat, and we stopped eating dairy products this Monday; hence, this week is called Cheesefare. (For more on the history of the Fast, and the Sundays that prepare for it, and the varying rules of fasting for throughout the period see here my lecture from last year.)

The Wednesday of Cheesefare week is the first day that Christians of the Byzantine tradition celebrate the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, that is, a service wherein the faithful partake of Holy Communion consecrated at a prior Divine Liturgy. The Latin tradition also utilizes a Presanctified Liturgy as part of its liturgical year, but only on Good Friday. There is a manuscript tradition of the presanctified liturgies for the Syrian, Hagiopite and Georgian traditions, as well; the Coptic, Ethiopian and Armenian tradition do not seem to have ever had a full ritual for the presanctified gifts. Within the Byzantine tradition, however, such an observance takes place twice this week, on Wednesday and Friday, and then remains an integral feature of weekday Lenten worship up through the Week of the Bridegroom, Holy Week.
Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts celebrated according to the Russian Tradition.

Our consideration of the Presanctified Liturgy in this context will be divided into three parts. First, I will lay out its structure, with some notes on the developments that have taken place within the rite, and the days that it is observed. Part two of our study will consider the historical and theological justifications for an aliturgical observance of Lenten weekdays, (“liturgical” here meaning strictly a service in which there is an anaphora with an epiclesis). Part three will consider some of the key moments of the liturgical observance: Phos Christou, the chanting of Ps. 140, and the Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, which although not strictly part of the rite is inextricably linked with the faithful’s experience of it.

For readers interested in a far more in-depth treatment of the historical development of the Presanctified Liturgy, I heartily recommend the book referenced a few years ago here at NLM, The Presanctified Liturgy in the Byzantine Rite by Greek Orthodox priest, Fr. Stefanos Alexopoulos. His admirable history of the rite’s development is an exemplary work in the school of the historical liturgist, Rev. R. Taft. Much of what I say about the history and development of the rite only serves as a summary or introduction to the much more detailed work of Fr. Alexopoulos, although at times I will note certain distinctive features of the Slavic tradition which are generally neglected in the study. At present there is no comparable study in English on the Slavic traditions of the Presanctified.

The structure of the Presanctified Liturgy is basically that of a Byzantine Vespers service, with a service for the distribution of communion attached to it. As Fr. Alexopoulos shows, the rite as it now stands is a testimony to the multi-staged development of the Byzantine liturgical tradition, having 1) key pre-Constantinian features at its root, 2) key imperial developments appropriate to the Cathedral rites of the Byzantine tradition, 3) features that characterize the monastic practice at the end of Late Antiquity (called by Taft the Dark Ages), 4) developments proper to the Studite synthesis of monastic and cathedral usages, and 5) characteristics of the neo-Sabaitic liturgical synthesis after the Latin conquest of Constantinople. As such it is a rich repository of liturgical history, and it especially tells the Byzantine story of balancing cathedral and monastic usage, a tension that hangs over the tradition to this day.

While the Liturgy is today attributed to St. Gregory the Dialogist (called “the Great” in the West), such an attribution is relatively late, gaining in popularity as Latin and Greek dialogue picks up after the fall of Constantinople. There does not seem to be any historical basis for an attribution to any particular author. The first documented evidence of the Presanctified Liturgy, which by its own description presupposes a much older tradition, is in the anonymous Chronikon Paschale of the early seventh century:
In the fourth indiction [of Emperor Heraclius, 615 or 616 A.D.], under Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople (610-638), commencing with the first week of Lent, a chant was introduced after the “Let my prayer ascend to You [Ps. 140]” at the moment when the celebrant brings the gifts to the altar from the sacristy (skeuophylakion) after the priest has said, “Through the gift of your Christ.” Immediately, the congregation begins to sing “Now the Powers of heaven are invisibly worshipping with us: for behold, the King of Glory enters in. Behold, the mystic and perfect sacrifice is being escorted. In faith and fear let us approach, so that we may become partakers in eternal life. Alleluia!” This hymn is sung not only during Lent as pre-sanctified offerings are brought in, but also on other days, whenever there are Presanctified offerings (P.G. 92,989). 
This first citation does not reference the prayers preceding the specific communion rights of the Presanctified Liturgy, but neither do many of the later manuscripts, in which the reader’s knowledge of the typical Vespers service is presumed. In the case of the Chronikon, we don’t know the structure of the whole liturgy into which this new hymn was inserted. By the end of the 8th century, however, we have a Byzantine Eucologion which includes the whole outline of the Presanctified Liturgy, including the Vespers service and the distinctive features thereof. Therefore, either the account above was already a part of the Lenten vesperal service, or it quickly became so over the next hundred some years.

The structure of the rite described above is as follows:
1. The reposition of the Presanctified gifts in the same place as the unconsecrated offerings for Divine Liturgy.
2. The chanting of Ps. 140
3. A procession, similar to the Great Entrance of the Divine Liturgy, but with the consecrated gifts, and with the singing of a new hymn.

All of these elements characterize the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts to this day. (For our Latin readers, it should be known that Alleluia is not prohibited during the Lenten season for the Byzantine tradition; indeed, it sung more often, but in a more mournful tone.)
Incensing of the Pre-Sanctified Lamb (source)

Without going into the whole history of how the Cathedral rite described above blended with the monastic usage of the time, and ultimately was almost entirely absorbed into first, the Studite monks’ attempted synthesis between the cathedral and monastic liturgical traditions, and then the neo-Sabaitic synthesis of the same, I will briefly outline the current form of the Presanctified Liturgy, with some notes on particular elements. The current form of the Presanctified Liturgy utilized by the Carpathian tradition was printed in Uzhorod at the beginning of the 20th century, and the form currently in use among American Ruthenians is an adaption of it. I will focus on the full usage, without taking note of the particular pastoral adaptations utilized by Orthodox and Catholic parishes in North America.

A. Vespers

    Ps. 103 (This psalm is from the usage of Lavra of St. Sabas, replacing the cathedral usage of Ps. 85)
    Kathisma 18 (Kathismas are “seats”, or sections of the Psalter. There are 20 kathisma are divided between the hours of the office so that monks can pray the Psalter in a week. During Lent, they pray it twice each week. Kathisma 18 is broken into three stations: 119-123, 124-128, 129-133. This arises from the Sabaitic use.)
    Prothesis (During the recitation of Kathisma 18, the Lamb [the square seal removed from the prosphora and offered at a previous liturgy] is ritually transferred from the Tabernacle to the Prothesis table to the left of the altar, which has long since replaced the skeuophylakion of the Hagia Sophia mentioned above.)
   Vespers Psalms: 140, 141, 129, 116, and assigned strophe (Typical of all Byzantine vespers; introduced by Studites and replacing the Antiochene usage which previously characterized the cathedral rite.)
   Entrance of Priest and chanting of “O Joyful Light.”

B. Readings and Accompanying Rituals

   Prokeimenon and First Reading (During Cheesefare Week there is only one reading, and that is taken from the Book of Joel, but during the remainder of Lent the first readings, following the Antiochene tradition that gave us Chrysostom’s homilies on Genesis, progresse through Genesis, with a second reading from Proverbs.)
   Second Prokeimenon
   Phos Christou (Here the priest brings forth a candle, and blesses the congregation with it while proclaiming: “The Light of Christ enlightens all!” The congregation responds by making 3 prostrations to the candle.)
   Second Reading (During Holy Week the readings change from Genesis and Proverbs to Exodus and Job. From the first prokeimenon to this point, the entire ritual seems to have derived from the Lenten catecheses/vesperal system in Antioch.)
   Chanting of Ps. 140
   Epistle and/or Gospel (This takes place on certain key feast days if they fall on a weekday of Lent: St. Charalampas (Feb. 10), the First and Second Findings of the Head of John the Baptist (Feb. 24), and the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste (March 9). There is also a Gospel for each of the first three days of Holy Week. In older times, when the Presanctified was celebrated on Wednesdays and Fridays through the year, there seems to have been a set progression of epistle and Gospel readings.)

C. Litanies: There follows a series of litanies for the faithful, the catechumens, and those in the catechumenate who will be baptized this Easter.

D. Great Entrance: The rite of the Great Entrance involved a procession from the prothesis to the altar, accompanied by incense and the chanting of the hymn described in the Chronikon.

E. Precommunion, Communion, Post-Communion Rites, and Dismissal: These rites have been deliberately modeled on the corresponding rituals of the Divine Liturgy, with only subtle variations in words or actions.

Some Notes on Frequency of the Liturgy
As noted, the Presanctified Liturgy is celebrated on the Wednesday and Friday of Cheesefare Week, every Wednesday and Friday through Lent, and the first three days of Holy Week. In principle, there is nothing preventing the Presanctified Liturgy from being offered every weekday of Lent, and even, as implied by the Chronikon quote, fast days outside of Lent. Under the influence of the neo-Sabaitac reforms, however, the more restricted use has been adopted. Reasons for this, the relation between the Presanctified Liturgy and fasting, and also the question about the theological justifications for fasting from the Divine Liturgy, will be dealt with in the next article.

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