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The Daily Office Tutorial, part V: Compline

October 22, 2010

Compline is one of the most simple, beautiful, and peaceful prayer services in which you are ever likely to participate, whether you say it by yourself or with your spouse before going to bed, or whether you lie on the floor of a Cathedral while the Cathedral choir chants it for you.  This gorgeous prayer that truly emanates the peace of God is a relatively new addition in the Episcopal Church, at least publicly.  No Book of Common Prayer had the service of Compline in it until the current, the 1979, book.  Prior to that, the only places you were likely to hear it (at least in its Anglican expression) were in monasteries.  Looking back over the ancient, monastic prayer book services (as I am sometimes wont to do – remember, liturgical dweeb!) the first thing that strikes me is how little of it has changed, and that my friends, I think is a good thing here.

Compline is an English word derived from the Latin word completorium, which means “a completion,” in this case referring to the completion of the day.  Like Noonday Prayer, this is an uncomplicated prayer service, as easily done in chapel as in bed.  Get out your BCP, because it is night, and let us pray.

The Daily Office Tutorial, part V

1.  Opening Sentences and Confession We begin on p. 127 and one of the first things that happens is the confession of sin.  If you choose to omit the confession of sin at Morning and Evening Prayer, this is not only your last chance to get it in before the close of the day, but also a nice time to do it, because you can reflect on the whole of your day.  Or, you may prefer not to call to mind your particular sins right before going to sleep and would rather save the Confession for another Office hour.

If you choose to say the Confession (and Compline is my preferred time to say it) you begin the service on the top of p. 127 with the line beginning, “The Lord Almighty grant us…” and then you move into the Confession, taking care to remember to leave time for silent reflection.  This is naturally followed by the absolution, which in this service is written in an inclusive form with no pronoun changing for lay/ordained.

If you choose to omit the Confession, the next Opening Sentences, on p. 128, are where you begin.  If you say the Confession, you simply continue right along.


2.  The Psalms The rubrics on p. 128 instruct you to say one of the following four Psalms, or another Psalm as appropriate.  The four they include are Psalm 4, 31, 91, and 134.  In the Breviary Compline service (the one the monks used in the middle ages and the one liturgical dweebs still love…oh, yes, I have one and I know how to use it!) Psalms 4, 91, and 134 were the traditional Psalms for Compline for Sunday nights, so it is nice they include them here as suggested.  Psalm 4 is probably my favorite Psalm for Compline.  All you need do is select one to recite.  It’s nice to do them in a cycle, too.  Following the praying of the Psalm, you of course say the Gloria Patri, as indicated on p. 131.


3.  The “Little Chapter” or, the Passage of Scripture The “Little Chapter” is what these short passages of Scripture beginning on p. 131 used to be called and is another holdover from the Breviary service and before.  There are four to choose from, and you select one.  After reading it, you say, “Thanks be to God.”  The fourth option, on p. 132, beginning, “Be sober…” is the traditional passage for Compline.


4.  The Hymn Following the Scripture passage, a hymn may be sung.


5.  The Prayers Towards the middle of p. 132, the final section of this service begins with a four line versicle and response style set of prayers, similar to the Suffrages from Morning and Evening Prayer, which is followed by the tri-fold Kyrie, and the Lord’s Prayer.  Just as in Noonday Prayer, this version of the Lord’s Prayer omits the typical Anglican doxological ending.

Then there is a salutation-like prayer on p. 133: “Lord, hear our prayer.  And let our cry come to you.  Let us pray.”

This is followed by one of four collects for Compline, again, with the fourth choice being the standard from the Breviary service from which Compline is derived.  One neat thing I’ve noticed, and I have no idea if this is either intentional or real (or maybe I’m cracked) is that the four collects correspond in theme and tone to Eucharistic Prayers A, B, C, and D respectively.  There is an additional collect for Saturdays on the top of p. 134 with the theme of preparing to receive Holy Communion.

You then have a choice to say one of two additional collects, but may omit both of them if you desire.  I like to say one of them one night, and then the other the next night.

Now in the middle of p. 134, silence is then kept for intercessions and thanksgivings which leads into a very traditional ending for Compline, the Nunc Dimittis (The Song of Simeon) surrounded by an antiphon.

The beautiful antiphon which is said before and after the Nunc Dimittis begins, “Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping…”

Then the Nunc Dimittis is prayed on p. 135 and the antiphon repeated.  In Eastertide the three “Alleluias” are added at the end of both instances of the antiphon.


6.  The Blessings Finally, on the bottom of p. 135 is said the Blessing.  Again, if you are by yourself, both lines are still said.  The Officiant then adds the concluding blessing.


That’s it!  Compline is really beautiful, and is so short that it is an easy prayer discipline to begin.  God bless you!

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