by V. Rev. Fr. Barouyr Shernezian
Behind the closed curtain, the deacon presents unleavened bread and wine (the holy gifts) to the priest. The celebrant blesses them with the sign of the Holy Cross, placing the bread on the paten and the wine in the chalice. The paten and chalice are covered with the veil until later the liturgy.
After the celebrant ascends the stairs and adores the Holy Altar, the curtain closes and the faithful take their seats. While the choir sings the day’s Megheti, the celebrant prays and blesses the holy gifts behind the closed curtain, in a portion of the liturgy referred to as the presentation of gifts. The faithful are given a moment to meditate and reflect on God. The Divine Liturgy constantly moves, both liturgically and theologically. This dynamic does not generally allow the faithful time to meditate during a service. By meditate, I mean to focus on a particular subject and create a spiritual connection with it. The following thoughts will help guide the faithful in meditation when the curtain is closed.
What is the presentation of gifts? The celebrant begins to prepare the holy gifts by placing the bread and the wine on the paten and in the chalice, respectively. He says prayers of blessings over the gifts, places a cloth over them, and then the deacon returns the chalice to the niche. The celebrant does not mix the bread and wine at this point, because the moment of salvation, the Holy Eucharist, has not yet occurred in the liturgy. The presentation of gifts represents the Annunciation of the Mother of God, when Christ became flesh in the womb of Holy Virgin Mary, through the Holy Spirit.
The curtain is closed for two main reasons. First, the closed curtain represents Mary’s pregnancy, with God out of sight until Jesus’s birth. Nobody knew that Christ was going to be born except for Elizabeth, who was informed through the Holy Spirit. The birth of Christ is a holy mystery. Second, God’s revelation to humanity occurred at an “unexpected” time. The prophets were silent for roughly 400 years prior to the birth of Christ. Suddenly, Christ was born to a virgin in Bethlehem, the promised Savior who would bring us into communion with God.
Further, God’s works are holy mysteries. He prepares the best for us, His children. Through the Holy Eucharist, He prepared Himself as a sacrifice for His children. Despite prophetic revelation, people did not fully understand that God would become flesh, walk the earth, die on the Holy Cross, and rise on the third day, for the sake of humanity. He did not die because of any crime or a sin, but only to bring humans closer to Him. While knowing that Christ would be crucified, people did not understand how profoundly the crucifixion would change the world until after His resurrection. We had waited centuries to witness salvation through His sacrifice.
Why is this relevant? We so often question the events in our lives. Why is this happening? Why is it happening to me? What does my future hold? We have so many questions, with so few answers. Throughout the Bible, we learn that God works beyond our perceptions. Similarly, He gives Himself to us from behind the closed curtain. He sacrificed Himself for humanity and freed us from sin. God is in control, working and dedicating Himself to us. Our faith allows us to feel assured that God is behind us.
That feeling of assurance allows us to meditate and think, “what can I do for Him?” If God endured brutal suffering and crucifixion to give Himself to us, we should give ourselves to Him in return. Giving to God, however, is not the same as exchanging gifts. When you give yourself to God, He plants Himself in you. The Holy Virgin Mother Mary is the best example of giving oneself to God. Mary was a devoted virgin. She showed her willingness to give herself to God, and so Christ became flesh in her. Mary trusted God, and let him plant Christ, our savior, in her womb. Accordingly, she was called the Mother of God.
Finally, we should be thankful to the blessed Mother of God. She gave birth to Christ, and suffered with her son. We are constantly blessed by her intercessions to her son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanking her and asking for her motherly intercession empowers us. Motherly love is a significant inspiration in our spiritual life. The Mother of God is a spiritual role model and inspirational saint. Her name is blessed throughout the Holy Bible, and her example fills our hearts with love towards her son, Jesus Christ.
Our goal is to see Christ and His glory. Everything else will eventually fade. Christ is the source of everlasting life and is the only road that leads to life. If you prepare yourself as a gift to Him, place yourself under the sign of the Holy Cross and accept His blessing. Then, with a joyful heart, open your eyes and watch Christ descending, walking among His children, and spreading His abundant blessings. At this point, the celebrant descends from the Holy Altar in procession with the altar servers and blesses the faithful with incense and the Holy Cross. The celebrant’s descent to the nave represents Christ’s ministry on earth, between His birth and crucifixion.
The sight of Christ and His love are deeply satisfying after spiritual meditation and prayer. When the Holy Church gives us that opportunity, we should seize it.
*Over my next few articles, I will discuss different methods of spiritual meditation to practice during the presentation of gifts, when the curtain is drawn.