I was sitting at a lunch table with three other men when the conversation turned to prayer. I found myself sharing my daily habit of morning and evening prayers, and more specifically the blessing I find in Compline (the last of the seven prayer “offices” observed in fixed-hour prayer).
I have incorporated Compline into my daily routine since my first prayer retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani, a Trappist monastery in Kentucky (I previously mentioned it in this post on 5 Places to Pray with Monks).
When people ask me, “What’s Compline?” I’ll usually explain it as “bedtime prayers” (the word comes from the Latin completorium, as Compline “completes” the day). But it’s more than that. It’s not only the time of prayer I observe before going to bed, but a purposefully designed liturgy that has turned into a tremendous blessing for me.
One of the blessings of Compline, perhaps the most basic, is that it helps my mind prepare for rest. Psychologically, at least, this nightly practice is a little like many other details of bedtime routine: locking the doors, turning out lights, brushing teeth, etc. On a solely natural level, Compline tells my body and mind that bedtime is approaching.
But there’s much more to it. The opening words of Compline—”May the Lord Almighty grant me and those I love a peaceful night and a perfect end”—are a doorway into rest for me. These words cue my spirit that rest is coming soon. The confession and plea for forgiveness that soon follows cleanses my conscience and prepares me to bed down in purity and peace.
Also, while I only sometimes chant (in the Gregorian fashion) my morning prayers, I always chant the psalms and prayers of Compline. I think this is because the quiet, meditative nature of chant is the perfect way to end the day. The chant slows down my racing mind. It helps me to welcome the Word of God into my head and heart in the last moments of the day, and often (partly because of the music of the chant) helps it to lodge there.
The actual words of Compline also bless me before bedtime. As someone who has long had trouble falling asleep, sometimes tossing and turning for hours, my sleep routines have changed drastically in recent years, and I think it’s partly due to the words and thoughts with which I fill my mind before retiring, such as, “Into your hands do I commend my spirit….keep me as the apple of your eye and hide me under the shadow of your wings” and “Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace…”
Compline also helps me commit my loved ones and others—and the world, in fact—to God’s care before I close my eyes in sleep. No matter how concerned I may be for someone, the wonderful words of Augustine’s prayer (which I will amplify with the word, “especially,” followed by specific names) enable me to cast all my cares on him who cares for me:
Watch, dear Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep tonight, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend your sick ones, Lord Christ. Rest your weary ones, bless your dying ones, soothe your suffering ones, shield your joyous ones, and all for your love’s sake, amen.
It’s a critical and complete exercise in intercession and in trust before I go to bed.
Finally, I think the strange melody and fitting words of the Compline hymn (“Lord, save us, save us while we are awake; protect us while we are asleep, that we may keep our watch with Christ, and when we sleep, rest in his peace”), along with the Gloria (“Glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit…”), have come to affect my mind and spirit a little like a loving parent tucking me into the covers and planting a gentle kiss on my forehead. It punctuates my day. It draws the curtains and turns out the lights on all the activity of the day. It benedicts.
And I know that doesn’t even exhaust the blessings of Compline. I am also confident that my nightly habit has saved me hundreds of dollars in sleep aids and thousands of hours in tossing and turning. And, most of all, it nightly draws me into the arms of God, a blessing that becomes dearer every day.
Below are some links to help you if you’re interested in the blessings of Compline:
- An Order for Compline from the Online Book of Common Prayer
- A Compline Service on The Church of England website
- A Text for Compline from the Roman Catholic Missal
- A Week’s Worth of Complines from the Northumbrian Community website
- The Divine Hours Pocket Edition, which includes Compline Prayers