Compline has always been my favourite Hour of the Daily Office. Of course, as the Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham points out, the recitation of daily Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer according to the Anglican tradition suffices (since these two Offices were specifically drawn up to gather together the older plethora of Hours); but forms of Compline have been drawn up, first for private use in various pious vade-mecums issued in the later nineteenth century, and later for official Anglican use, since the early twentieth century (e.g. the 1914 U.S Episcopalian Order for Compline, or the forms found in the 1926 Irish, 1928 Proposed English, 1929 Scottish and 1962 Canadian Prayer Books), since this Hour has a peculiarly affecting quality, whose elements, drawn quite directly from the Roman Rite (whether modern or mediæval), are most conducive to prayer.
The Customary provides an order for Compline that is, in fact, more traditional than that found in the modern Roman Liturgy of the Hours, and even in some respects more traditional than that found in the liturgical books of 1962 – since it maintains the immemorial Western tradition of using four fixed psalms at Compline (abandoned in 1912 at St Pius X’s revision of the Breviary), and even retains the preces or suffrages (removed at Roman Compline in the 1950’s).
It is much to be applauded that Compline in the Customary is adorned with chant notation so it may be sung to the ancient melodies proper thereto. Herewith, an outline of the order of service:
“The Lord almighty grant us a quiet night… (the blessing Noctem quietam)
· “Brethren, be sober, be vigilant…” (the traditional short lesson, 1 Peter 5:8-9)
· “But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us. Thanks be to God.” (the traditional conclusion Tu autem, with response Deo gratias)
· “Our help is in the name of the Lord…” (the versicle Adjutorium nostrum)
· (Pause for examination of conscience)
· “I confess to God…” (the Sarum Confiteor, but put in the Roman position at the start of Compline, rather than in the Sarum, where it was placed among the preces)
· “May almighty God have mercy…” (the Sarum Misereatur; there is no Indulgentiam, just as at Dominican Compline, which is similar to the Sarum)
· “O God, make speed to save us…” (the versicle Deus in adjutorium)
· “Glory be to the Father…” (the lesser doxology)
· “Alleluia” (but in Lent, the Anglican versicle “Praise ye the Lord…”)
· “Before the ending of the day…” (Neale’s Englishing of the ancient Compline Hymn Te lucis; or another ad lib. – the hymn is placed before the psalmody, following the modern Roman Liturgy of the Hours, but also Ambrosian custom)
· Psalms 4, 31:1-6, 91, 134 (the traditional Compline psalms, every day one or more, ad lib.)
· “Thou, O Lord, art in the midst…” (Jer 14:9) or “Now the God of peace…” (Heb 13:20-21) (or another, ad lib.)
· “Into thy hands…” (traditional responsory In manus tuas)
· “Keep me as the apple…” (traditional versicle Custodi me Domine)
· “Preserve us, O Lord…” (antiphon Salva nos – or, ad lib., various seasonal alternatives as in the Sarum Rite and other mediæval uses, such as the Dominican with which I am more familiar)
· “Lord, now lettest thou…” (the Nunc dimittis)
· “Lord, have mercy…” (the threefold Kyrie or Lesser Litany)
· “Our Father…” (the Lord’s Prayer, but said aloud by all, rather than mainly secretly, as in the traditional Latin preces)
· “Blessed art thou… Let us bless… Blessed art thou… The almighty… Wilt thou not… O Lord, shew… Vouchsafe, O Lord… O Lord, hear…” (preces or suffrages – all traditional, drawn from Daniel chapter 3 and the Te Deum; for more expediency, the latter four may be omitted)
· “Let us pray” (Oremus)
· “Visit, we beseech thee…” (the Roman collect Visita quæsumus Domine) and/or “Lighten our darkness” (the Sarum Compline collect Illumina quæsumus Domine, famous from Evensong), and/or “O Lord Jesus Christ…” (another mediæval collect, commemorating the Lord’s burial in the sepulchre), and/or “Look down, O Lord…” (Respice, Domine, de excelsa, oft found in Anglican forms of Compline, but curiously enough from the Ambrosian Rite), and/or “Be present, O merciful God…” (another ancient collect)
· “We will lay us down in peace…” (the traditional Sarum versicle In pace in idipsum)
· “Abide with us… As the watchmen… Come with the dawning…” (three further versicles, drawn from the Gospels and Psalm 130, following the form of Compline given in modern Church of England publications)
· “The Lord be with you…” (Dominus vobiscum – to be used only if there be one in holy orders)
· “Let us bless the Lord…” (Benedicamus Domino)
· “The almighty and merciful Lord…” (the blessing Benedicat et custodiat)
· An Anthem to the Blessed Virgin, with (optionally) a versicle and collect (all Roman, these, for the seasons of the year: after Pentecost until Advent, the “Hail Holy Queen…”, with “Pray for us…” and collect “Almighty everlasting God…” exactly render the Salve Regina, Ora pro nobis and Omnipotens sempiterne Deus)
· “May the divine assistance remain with us always…” (the concluding formula, Divinum auxilium)
A real stickler for bringing into play every last traditional part of the ancient Latin Compline service would note in particular the following omissions:
- The lack of the versicle Converte nos before Deus in adjutorium (retained in the 1929 Scottish BCP, where it was put at the very start of the service, and in the US 1914 Order for Compline);
- The lack of the psalm antiphon Miserere mihi (something Anglican forms all omit, so far as I recall, but which could easily be admitted, especially given the plainchant pointing of the text in the Customary);
- The omission of the alternative lesson “Come unto me…” (St Matthew 11:28-30), commonly provided in Anglican forms of Compline – though by the terms of the rubric governing the reading, this could well be used if desired;
- The omission of the Apostles’ Creed, always found in Latin Breviaries among the preces at Compline, and retained in many Anglican forms, such as the 1928 Proposed BCP, and the 1929 Scottish BCP – indeed, made a more prominent part of the service, by appointing it to be said daily, aloud, by all, prior to the Lesser Litany, Lord’s Prayer and preces (just as at Anglican Mattins and Evensong);
- The omission of certain alternative collects provided for use at Compline, above all (as the 1929 Scottish BCP provides) that wonderful prayer derived from Blessed John Henry Newman, “O Lord, support us all the day long…”; other possible collects include that in the 1914 American version (“Give us light in the night season…”), and that – attributed to St Augustine – beginning “Keep watch, dear Lord…”, which is appointed for use at Compline in the Book of Divine Worship.
There is something intrinsically Anglican in style about the use of more than one collect at Compline, just as at the end of Mattins and Evensong (though to be fair Compline has four collects merged into one in the traditional Ambrosian Office also). It seems to me that the next edition of the Customary ought at the very least allow the use of Newman’s famous prayer as part of its order of Compline:
O LORD, support us all the day long of this troublous life, until the shades lengthen, and the evening cometh, and the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work done. Then, Lord, in thy mercy, grant us safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
That prayer attributed to Augustine would also be a worthy addition:
KEEP watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give thine angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for thy love’s sake. Amen.
However, these minor desiderata aside, certainly Ordinariate Compline is a worthy and most beautiful Office to pray at the close of the day, ere we enter into sleep, image of death, in the hope both of awaking to a new day, and of one day arising at the general resurrection.