In the early Church, it was thought that the solemnity with which the Church celebrated the Holy Forty Days Fast did not mesh so well with the incredibly joyful and triumphant nature of the Eucharistic Anaphora of the Divine Liturgy. So at the Council of Laodicea (A.D. 364) the celebration of the full Divine Liturgy was restricted to the Saturdays and Sundays of the Great Fast. To enable the faithful to communicate the Divine Eucharist on weekdays the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts developed. Customarily, the faithful would fast from all food during the daylight hours and then, near the end of the day, join together to pray Vespers. Following Vespers the Eucharist – which had been consecrated the previous Sunday – was distributed. In some places the Presanctified Eucharist was distributed daily, but over time the custom arose of celebrating the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts only on the Wednesdays and Fridays of Lent (plus a few other special days).
The Scripture readings at the Presanctified are from Genesis and Proverbs. From Genesis each year we learn all over again about the creation of the world, the fall of man, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood, God’s covenant with Abram, Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham being put to the test, and then about Joseph and his brothers. From Proverbs we are taught the practical wisdom for living the moral life. While always profitable for the Believer these lessons date to the time when those preparing to be enlightened in Baptism attended the Vespers part of this liturgy. During the second half of Lent there are special petitions for those “ready for enlightenment”.
In current practice many of the melodies used to sing the texts of the Presanctified are set in a minor key, and this makes the service notably different from the festal celebrations of the Divine Liturgy on Saturdays and Sundays.
First Prayer of the Faithful at Presanctified
O God, great and worthy to be praised, Who through the life-giving death of Your Christ has transferred us from corruption to incorruption: Deliver all our senses from deadly passions, setting over them our inner being as a sure guide. Let our eyes be blind to every evil sight; let our ears be deaf to idle chatter; and let our tongue be cleansed of unbecoming speech. Purify our lips which praise You, O Lord. Make our hands abstain from evil deeds and do only those things which are pleasing in Your sight. By Your grace strengthen our bodies and our minds. For to You belongs all glory, honor and worship, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.