The Third Day of Great Lent. The Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts.
The Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts has a distinct character and order. It is comprised of three major parts or components: a) the service of Great Vespers peculiar to this Liturgy; b) the solemn transfer of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts to-the holy Table; and c) the preparation for and the distribution of holy Communion. The Liturgy does not contain the Anaphora, the Gifts of the bread and wine having been consecrated at the Divine Liturgy on the previous Sunday or Saturday.
The Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified developed over a long period of time. Though its history and structure is complex, its origins can be traced to two customs of the early Church. The first is related to the practice of self-communion, i.e., the private communion at home of the consecrated holy Bread, received previously at the Sunday Liturgy. The second is related to the rules regulating the practice of fasting.
It was customary in the early Church for many Christians, clerics, laity and ascetics alike, to receive holy Communion daily in their homes. The consecrated Gifts were distributed for this purpose at the Sunday Eucharist to those who desired them. Though this practice was discontinued, it provided the impetus for the creation of a new form of Communion, i.e., the distribution and Communion of the reserved sacrament in the context of a communal worship service.
With regard to the rules and customs pertaining to fasting, two practices are of special significance in the development of the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified. In the early Church Wednesdays and Fridays were observed with a total fast, which meant complete abstinence from food and drink until the late afternoon. The practice was especially true for Great Lent. The total fast signified both the spiritual concentration and expectation of an approaching joy as well as the last and ultimate preparation for a decisive spiritual event and feast. For this reason, a total fast was observed also in preparation for holy Communion.
The second practice is related to the celebration of the Eucharist. From early times it was considered inappropriate to celebrate the Eucharist on fast days. The reason for this is based on the understanding of the Eucharist as the feast of the Church. In as much as the celebration of the Eucharist constitutes a feast, it is incompatible with fasting. While fasting signifies the way toward the fullness, the Eucharist is the manifestation of that fullness.
The combination of these factors resulted in the development of the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified, which can be defined succinctly as: the distribution and communion of the reserved sacrament at the end of a fast day in the context of a communal worship service, consisting mainly of Vespers and elements of the Divine Liturgy.
The Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts enjoyed wider and more frequent use in earlier times. Besides the Great Lent and the first three days of Great Week, it was celebrated also on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year, on Great Friday and on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.
The Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts, in addition to manifesting vividly the spirit of joyous-sorrow charmolipi) which characterizes the Lenten Season and Great Week, serves to highlight an important aspect of our Eucharistic theology. The Eucharistic elements of the bread and wine once consecrated continue to be the life giving Body and Blood of Christ, given to the faithful as communion for the forgiveness of sins and life eternal.
~Website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA), goarch.org.