The Divine Liturgy:

Preparatory Rites

Everything which takes place before the opening blessing of the Divine Liturgy ("Blessed is the kingdom...") makes up the preparatory rites of the Divine Liturgy: the preparation of the people, clergy, and gifts of bread and wine for the celebration of the Eucharist.

The preparation of the people

In the Eucharist, what is earthly becomes part of the heavenly liturgy, and so our preparation for it takes the form of a journey and a purification. The faithful:

Ideally, of course, every Christian should pray at least upon rising every day, and before going to sleep. There are also particular prayers of preparation for Holy Communion, found in the Horologion, and these prayers are printed in the Divine Liturgies book on pages 4-10.

For Sundays and feast days, the full cycle of services in the Byzantine Rite also includes participation at Vespers and Matins, and the faithful may also choose to go to confession. Those who will receive Holy Communion normally fast from the night before. (Particular law requires a minimum of an hour's fast , exclusive of water and medications).

Before the beginning of the Divine Liturgy, the faithful may sing hymns or spiritual songs, led by the cantor, or a service such as the Third Hour may be celebrated.

The preparation of the clergy

The preparation of the clergy is spelled out in somewhat more detail in the liturgical books:

The priest who intends to celebrate the divine mystery should be reconciled, first of all, with everyone and have no animosity toward anyone. To the best of his ability, he must keep his heart free from evil thoughts. He must abstain from food and drink in accordance with ecclesiastical regulation until his priestly function.

The priest and deacon say a series of prayers before the holy doors, and the priest prays:

Lord, stretch forth your hand from the height of your holy dwelling-place, and strengthen me for the service I am about to offer you that I may stand before your awesome altar without condemnation and perform the unbloody sacrifice. For yours is the power forever. Amen.

Then they don their vestments, saying a prayer over each one (the deacon first requests the priest's blessing), wash their hands, and go to the table of preparation, which is usually on the left side within the sanctuary, to prepare the gifts of bread and wine.

The preparation of the bread and wine

At one time, the preparation of the gifts was performed very simply by the deacon, but over time it evolved into the initial part of the Divine Liturgy, called the prothesis ("setting forth") or the proskomedia ("sacrifice'). The priest takes a loaf of leavened bread, called prosphora, and cuts a square section out of the middle; this square will be used for Holy Communion, and is called the lamb. During this process, the priest recites verses from Scripture which refer to the incarnation of Christ and his sacrifice.

The lamb is placed on a small plate called the diskos, and covered with several cloths or veils. Then the deacon mixes wine and a little water (representing the divine and human natures of Christ) into a chalice. Then the priest cuts triangular pieces of bread out of the remaining part of the prosphora, or from additional loaves, to represent the Mother of God, the angels, and the various classes of saints, the leaders and people of the Church, and each person living or dead for whom the liturgy is offered. These are placed in a particular pattern around the lamb on the diskos; when this process is complete, the diskos contains a symbolic representation of the entire Kingdom of God, gathered around Christ.

The diskos and chalice are covered with veils and incensed, and the priest says the Prayer of Offering:

God, our God, who have sent forth the heavenly bread as the nourishment of the whole world, our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer and Benefactor to bless and sanctify us, bless these gifts placed here before you and accept them on your heavenly altar. Remember, as the merciful lover of us all, those who brought the offerings and those for whom they are being offered; and keep us blameless in the holy celebration of your divine mysteries. For sanctified and glorified is your most honored and sublime name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and ever and forever. Amen.

The priest then goes to stand before the holy table (altar), while the deacon incenses the gifts, the altar, the icons on the iconostasis, the whole church, the people, and the clergy. It is now time for the public part of the Divine Liturgy to begin.

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