Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Curtains and the Presanctified Liturgy

From the invaluable resource, "Why is the curtain left half open?"

If the closing of the curtain halfway at the Presanctified Liturgy has nothing to do with veiling the already-consecrated Lamb, while leaving the unconsecrated wine unveiled, then what is the basis for this unique rubric?

The hypothesis that the curtain is used to veil the consecrated Gifts during the Presanctified Liturgy contradicts the use of the curtain at the full Divine Liturgy, where the curtain is closed fully after the Great Entrance, when the Gifts are not yet consecrated, but is opened for their consecration and remains open after their consecration until the communion of the clergy.

Nikol'sky, in his "Aid to the Study of the Liturgical Typicon of the Orthodox Church," writes as follows:

'At the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, after the transfer of the Holy Gifts, the curtain is partly closed (its first half) and opened (its second half). It is closed for the same reason that it remains closed also at the full Liturgy after the Great Entrance, namely that the Entrance recalls the going of the Lord to His passion and is the unattainable mystery of the salvation of men, hidden from many ages and generations (Col 1:26) -- the mystery of the bloodless sacrifice of the Lord, "who is the God of ineffable and invisible mysteries, and with whom are the hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (prayer at the Presanctified Liturgy after the Great Entrance). The curtain ought to be open after the Great Entrance, during the Litany before "Our Father," for the reason that at this time it remains open also at the full Liturgy. As at the full Liturgy, so also at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, at this time the consecrated Gifts are on the Holy Table, and the people (with the curtain open), while contemplating the sacrifice offered for the sins of the world, call with boldness upon the Heavenly God as Father and say: "Our Father."'

According to Nikol'sky, then, the half-open, half-closed curtain after the Great Entrance at the Presanctified Liturgy serves two functions:
  1. the function of the closed curtain after the Great Entrance at the full Liturgy and
  2. the function of the open curtain during and after the consecration of the Holy Gifts at the full Liturgy.
Following this line of thinking, it would be reasonable for the curtain to be closed from south to north, precisely so that the open side, i.e., the left side, would correspond to the same side of the Holy Table (the left side) on which the discos with the consecrated Lamb has been placed. That way the consecrated Lamb would be open to the contemplation of the people before the Lord's Prayer, just as it is at the full Divine Liturgy. This reasoning, then, is the exact opposite of the idea that the curtain is intended to veil the consecrated Gifts from view.

In general, I think that the history, use and significance of the curtain is something that needs a lot more study and elucidation.


  1. Except that at the Pre-sanctified the position of the diskos and chalice when placed on the holy table are reversed.
    I don't really think that is to facilitate the diskos being "unveiled" by the curtain. (the same reversal of position of diskos and chalice obtains at the prothesis from the third antiphon to the Great Entrance of the Pre-sanctified.) Rather, it seems that the various rubrics of Pre-sanctified, (which differ between traditions) all serve to mark the Pre-Sanctified as different from the full Liturgy, and remind celebrants and faithful of the difference.

  2. PS Much like the veiling of the priest's head as in the illustration, though not part of Russian/slav use. That custom visually and actively marks out the Great Entrance of the Pre-Sanctified.
    But how to explain the custom in reference to what is done "normally" as the articled attempts for the sanctuary veil. In ordinary use in no tradition do the clergy veil their heads with the Aer or anything else before the Consecrated Gifts, nor would any one think of wearing klobuks or kamilavki while taking Communion. The veiling of the head in the Greek/Levant tradition marks the Pre-Sanctified as different.

  3. I think that veiling of the priest's head comes from the veil that was put on Moses face because its glowing light blinded the people after He was with the Lord on Mt Sinai. We do it to symbolize that we are in the presence of the Lord the way that Moses was. However, it can be dangerous as it is hard for the priest to see where he is going.. Last week I ran into a candle stand. We Antiochians place the diskos and chalice in their usual position on the Holy Table after the Great Entrance.