Liturgy of the Hours -- Compline

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Compline is the beautiful night prayer of the Church. It can be said just before retiring to bed, and has a penitential aspect, where we expose our sins and shame to God, but at the same time commend ourselves to His infinite mercy and care. It also is profoundly a renewal of hope -- after all, who knows what will happen when they sleep! Hence the Church prays "Lord, we beg you to visit this house and banish from it all the deadly power of the enemy. May your holy angels dwell here to keep us in peace, and may your blessing be upon us always."

Structure of Compline

Compline is found in its own section of your Office book (pp. 1034-1057 in Christian Prayer). Though there is a different text for each day of the week (note "after Evening Prayer I" means 'Saturday night'), there is no further variation, i.e. no referencing of Propers, Commons, etc.

Opening Versicles

The Hour always commences with these versicles (p. 1034, et. seq.) with the sign of the cross being traditionally made:
V. "God, come to my assistance"
R. "Lord, make haste to help me."
"Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now and will be for ever. Amen. [Alleluia](1)"

A brief Examination of Conscience, though optional, is now recommended. In communal celebrations this often takes the form of a pentitential rite, e.g. the Confiteor.


Hymn

Though a Hymn for Compline is, like other Hours, compulsory, the exact Hymn is left up to choice. Hymns are listed in an Appendix at the back of the book.


Psalmody

One or two Psalms are then recited. As in Lauds and Vespers they are preceded by an Antiphon (which may change if it Easter), and are followed by a Glory Be, and the Antiphon then being repeated.


Reading

A short scripture reading is then said. Again, there is no need for the preface "A reading from ...".


Responsory

The responsory is then said, and it is unvarying, with the exception of adding alleluias during Easter:

"Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.
-- Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.
You have redeemed us, Lord God of truth,
-- I comment my spirit.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
-- as it was in the beginning, is now and will be for ever."

Personally, I find this part of the Compline the most solitary, the most emotional, and the part I am least able to explain. In the dead of night, there am I, talking to my God, and telling Him I trust Him, using the words our Saviour used.


Gospel Canticle

Now follows the Nunc Dimittis, the Canticle of Simeon. I find the emotional moment continues as we hear Simeon's heart-rendering thanks to God upon seeing the infant Jesus. It is preceded and followed by an unvarying Antiphon. I will quote this in full:

"Protect us Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace.

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled:
my own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people:
a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
-- as it was in the beginning, is now and will be for ever.

Protect us Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace."


Concluding Prayer, and Blessing

The final prayer is then said; it is preceded by "Let us pray".

Then blessing is then said "May the all-powerful Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death. Amen" (p. 1037, et. seq.); here traditionally, a sign of the cross is made.


Marian Antiphons

Most people then pray a traditional Marian Antiphon. Although Compline is over, this is done in honour of Our Lady, and to my mind indicates the faith we have that she will intercede for us and cause us to come to her beloved Son, Jesus.

You can pray whichever final Antiphon you wish, but if it is of any interest they were previously prayed thus:-

  • during Advent, and until the Feast of the Purification, Alma Redemptoris Mater;
  • from the Feast of the Purification until the Wednesday in Holy Week, Ave Regina Cælorum;
  • from Holy Saturday until Trinity Sunday, Regina cæli lætare; and
  • from Trinity Sunday until Advent, Salve Regina.

Naturally, you are free to pray any of those listed, but I found sticking to a particular one -- in either English or Latin -- was an excellent method to learn them. I would also recommending reciting the Memorare, or some other small devotion.

In monasteries and other religious communities, the "Great Silence" then started (and still does). During this time no conversation is usually permitted, save for emergency. I find this highly commendable and would not dally after Compline. You have just prayed for God's blessing over your sleep; go to sleep!

Over at The Propaganda Machine blog, my friend Mike has said he may write a post on the spirituality of Compline; I would recommend that when/if he does so.


Next time:

I plan to wrap up this series on December 23rd (Advent IV) by covering the "inheritor" to the vigil of matins, the Office of Readings, as well as Prayer during the Day. The latter Hour can be one or three, but after praying Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer is relatively simple.

As usual I would welcome any feedback or questions, but particular before next time because I have nothing further to say! God bless!

[Hymns: Also, I need to apologise; last time I said that the hymns are optional in private recitation. I have clarified that in terms of GILOH §§ 42, 61, 79, 87 and 173 it is not optional. Naturally those reciting (parts of) the Office can choose what they want to recite, but if you want a truly authentic experience... ;-) ]

(1) Alleluia being omitted during Lent.

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