Compline (// KOM-plin), also known as Complin, Night Prayer, or the Prayers at the End of the Day, is the final church service (or office) of the day in the Christian tradition of canonical hours. The English word compline is derived from the Latin completorium, as Compline is the completion of the working day. The word was first used in this sense about the beginning of the 6th century by St. Benedict in his Rule (Regula Benedicti; hereafter, RB), in Chapters 16, 17, 18, and 42, and he even uses the verb compleo to signify Compline: "Omnes ergo in unum positi compleant" ("All having assembled in one place, let them say Compline"); "et exeuntes a completorio" ("and, after going out from Compline")... (RB, Chap. 42).
Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, and certain other Christian denominations with liturgical traditions prescribe Compline services. Compline tends to be a contemplative Office that emphasizes spiritual peace. In many monasteries it is the custom to begin the "Great Silence" after Compline, during which the whole community, including guests, observes silence throughout the night until the morning service the next day.
The origin of Compline has given rise to considerable discussion among liturgists. In the past, general opinion ascribed the origin of this Hour to St. Benedict, in the beginning of the 6th century. But Jules Pargoire and A. Vandepitte trace its source to St. Basil. Vandepitte states that it was not in Cæsarea in 375, but in his retreat in Pontus (358-362), that Basil established Compline, which Hour did not exist prior to his time, that is, until shortly after the middle of the 4th century. Dom Plaine also traced the source of Compline back to the 4th century, finding mention of it in a passage in Eusebius and in another in St. Ambrose, and also in John Cassian. These texts bear witness to the private custom of saying a prayer before retiring to rest. If this was not the canonical Hour of Compline, it was certainly a preliminary step towards it. The same writers reject the opinion of Paulin Ladeuze and Dom Besse who believe that Compline had a place in the Rule of St. Pachomius, which would mean that it originated still earlier in the 4th century.
It might be possible to reconcile these different sentiments by stating that if it be an established fact that St. Basil instituted and organized the Hour of Compline for the East, as St. Benedict did for the West, there existed as early as the days of St. Cyprian and Clement of Alexandria the custom of reciting a prayer before sleep, in which practice we find the most remote origin of our Compline.
It is generally thought that the Benedictine form of Compline is the earliest western order, although some scholars, such as Dom Plaine, have maintained that the Hour of Compline as found in the Roman Breviary at his time, antedated the Benedictine Office. These debates apart, Benedict's arrangement probably invested the Hour of Compline with the liturgical character and arrangement which were preserved in the Benedictine Order, and largely adopted by the Roman Church. The original form of the Benedictine Office, lacking even an antiphon for the psalms, is much simpler than its Roman counterpart, resembling more closely the Minor Hours of the day.
Saint Benedict first gave the Office the basic structure by which it has come to be celebrated in the West: three psalms (4, 90, and 133) (Vulgate numbering) said without antiphons, the hymn, the lesson, the versicle Kyrie eleison, the benediction, and the dismissal (RB, Chaps. 17 and 18).
The Roman Office of Compline came to be richer and more complex than the simple Benedictine psalmody. A fourth psalm was added, "In te Domine speravi" (Psalm 30 in Vulgate). And perhaps at a fairly late date was added the solemn introduction of a benediction with a reading (based perhaps on the spiritual reading which, in the Rule of St. Benedict, precedes Compline: RB, Chap. 42), and the confession and absolution of faults. This is absent from parallel forms, such as that of Sarum.
The distinctive character and greater solemnity of the Roman form of Compline comes from the response, In manus tuas, Domine ("Into Thy hands, O Lord")..., with the evangelical canticle Nunc Dimittis and its anthem, which is particularly characteristic.
The Hour of Compline, such as it appeared in the Roman Breviary prior to the Second Vatican Council, may be divided into several parts, viz. the beginning or introduction, the psalmody, with its usual accompaniment of antiphons, the hymn, the capitulum, the response, the evangelical canticle, the prayer, and the benediction.
By way of liturgical variety, the service of initium noctis may also be studied in the Celtic Liturgy, such as it is read in the Antiphonary of Bangor, its plan being set forth by Warren and by Bishop (see Bibliography, below).
In the breviary of 1974 Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours, Compline is divided as follows: introduction, an optional examination of conscience or penitential rite, a hymn, psalmody with accompanying antiphons, scriptural reading, the responsory, the Canticle of Simeon, concluding prayer, and benediction. The final antiphon to the Blessed Virgin Mary (Salve Regina, etc.) is an essential part of the Office.
There are two offices in the Armenian daily worship which are recited between Vespers and sleep: the Peace Hour and the Rest Hour. These are two distinct services of communal worship. It is the usage in some localities to combine these two services, with abbreviations, into a single service.
The Peace Hour (Armenian: Խաղաղական Ժամ khaghaghakan zham) is the office associated with compline in other Christian liturgies.
In the Armenian Book of Hours, or Zhamagirk`, it is stated that the Peace Hour commemorates the Spirit of God, but also the Word of God, “when he was laid in the tomb and descended into Hades, and brought peace to the spirits.”
Outline of the Peace Hour
If the Song of Steps is recited: Blessed is our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our Father... Amen.; Psalm 34:1-7: I have blessed the Lord at all times (awrhnets`its` zTēr)...; Glory to the Father (Always with Now and always... Amen.; And again in peace let us pray to the Lord...; Blessing and glory to the Father... Amen.; Song of Steps: Psalm 120:1-3: In my distress I cried (I neghout`ean imoum)...; Glory to the Father....
If the Song of Steps is not said: Blessed is our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our father... Amen; Psalm 88:1-2 God of my salvation (Astouats p`kkout`ean imoy)...; Glory to the Father...; And again in peace let us pray to the Lord...; Blessing and glory to the Father...Amen.; Peace with all.
In either case the service continues here: Psalms 4, 6, 13, 16, 43, 70, 86:16-17; Glory to the Father...; Song: Vouchsafe unto us (Shnorhea mez)...; Glory to the Father....; Acclamation: At the approach of darkness (I merdzenal erekoyis)...; Proclamation: And again in peace… Let us give thanks to the Lord (Gohats`arouk` zTearnē)...; Prayer: Beneficent Lord (Tēr Barerar)...; Psalm 27 The Lord is my light (Tēr loys im)...; Glory to the Father...; Song: Look down with love (Nayats` sirov)...; Acclamation: Lord, do not turn your face (Tēr mi dartzouts`aner)...; Proclamation: And again in peace… Let us beseech almighty God (Aghach`ests`ouk` zamenakal)...; Prayer: Bestowing with grace (Shnorhatou bareats`)....
On non-fasting days the service ends here with: Blessed is our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our father... Amen.
On fasting days continue here: Psalm 119; Glory to the Father...; Hymn: We entreat you (I k`ez hayts`emk`)....
During the Great Fast: Evening Chant (varies); Acclamation: To the spirits at rest (Hogvovn hangouts`elots`)...; Proclamation: And again in peace… For the repose of the souls (Vasn hangouts`eal)...; Lord, have mercy (thrice); Prayer: Christ, Son of God (K`ristos Ordi Astoutsoy)...; Blessed is our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our father... Amen.”
The Rest Hour (Armenian: Հանգստեան Ժամ hangstean zham) is celebrated after the Peace Hour, and is the last of the offices of the day. It may be considered communal worship before sleep. It bears some resemblance in content to Compline in the Roman Rite.
In the Armenian Book of Hours it is stated in many manuscripts that the Rest Hour commemorates God the Father, “that he protect us through the protecting arm of the Onlybegotten in the darkness of night.”
Outline of the Rest Hour: Blessed is our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our Father... Amen.; Psalm 43:3-5: Lord, send your light and your truth (Arak`ea Tēr)...; Glory to the Father...; And again in peace let us pray to the Lord...; Blessing and glory to the Father... Amen.; Psalms 119:41-56, 119:113-120, 119:169-176, 91, 123, 54, Daniel 3:29-34, Luke 2:29-32, Psalms 142:7, 86:16-17, 138:7-8, Luke 1:46-55; Glory to the Father...; Acclamation: My soul into your hands (Andzn im I tzers k`o)...; Proclamation: And again in peace…Let us beseech almighty God (Aghach`ests`ouk` zamenakaln)...; Prayer: Lord our God (Tēr Astouats mer)....
Ending: Psalm 4; Pre-gospel sequence; Gospel: John 12:24ff; Glory to you, our God; Proclamation: By the holy Cross (Sourb khach`ivs…)...; Prayer: Protect us (Pahpannea zmez)...; Blessed is our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our Father...Amen.
Ending during Fasts: Acclamation: We fall down before you (Ankanimk` araji k`o)...; Meditation Twelve of St. Gregory of Narek; Meditation 94 of St. Gregory of Narek; Meditation 41 of St. Gregory of Narek; Prayer: In faith I confess (Havatov khostovanim)... by St. Nerses the Graceful; Acclamation: Through your holy spotless and virgin mother (Vasn srbouhvoy)...; Proclamation: Holy Birthgiver of God (Sourb zAstouatsatsinn), ,; Prayer: Accept, Lord (Unkal, Tēr)...; Blessed is our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our Father...Amen.
Compline in the Eastern Orthodox and Greek-Catholic Churches (Greek (τὸ) Ἀπόδειπνον [apóðipnon], Slavonic Povecheriye: literally the "after-supper" [prayer]) takes two distinct forms: Small Compline and Great Compline. The two versions are quite different in length.
At Compline (whether Small or Great) a Canon to the Theotokos in the Tone of the Week will normally be read (these Canons will be found in the Octoechos). Services to saints in the Menaion that for various reasons cannot be celebrated on the day assigned to them, may be chanted on the nearest convenient day at Compline. In such cases, the Canon for the Saint would be read together with the Canon to the Theotokos, followed by the Stichera to the saint from Vespers. There are also particular days (such as certain Forefeasts, Afterfeasts, and days during the Pentecostarion) that have special Canons for Compline composed for them.
The Office always ends with a mutual asking of forgiveness. In some traditions, most notably among the Russians, Evening Prayers (i.e., Prayers Before Sleep) will be read near the end of Compline. It is an ancient custom, practiced on the Holy Mountain and in other monasteries, for everyone present at the end of Compline to venerate the relics and icons in the church, and receive the priest's blessing.
Small Compline is served on most nights of the year (i.e., those nights on which Great Compline is not served). On the eves of Sundays and feasts with All-Night Vigil, Compline may be either read privately or suppressed altogether. Among the Greeks, who do not normally hold an All-Night Vigil on Saturday evenings, Compline is said as normal.
The service is composed of three Psalms (50, 69, 142), the Small Doxology, the Nicene Creed, the Canon followed by Axion Estin, the Trisagion, Troparia for the day, Kyrie eleison (40 times), the Prayer of the Hours, the Supplicatory Prayer of Paul the Monk, and the Prayer to Jesus Christ of Antiochus the Monk. Then the mutual forgiveness and final blessing by the priest. After this, there is a Litany and the veneration of Icons and relics.
Great Compline is a penitential office which is served on the following occasions:
Unlike Small Compline, Great Compline has portions of the service which are chanted by the Choir and during Lent the Prayer of St. Ephraim is said with prostrations. During the First Week of Great Lent, the Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete is divided into four portions and read on Monday through Thursday nights.
Due to the penitential nature of Great Compline, it is not uncommon for the priest to hear Confession during the service.
Great Compline is composed of three sections, each beginning with the call to prayer, "O come, let us worship...":
In the Anglican tradition, Compline was originally merged with Vespers to form Evening Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer. The ECUSA's Book of Offices of 1914, the Church of England's proposed Prayer Book of 1928, and the Anglican Church of Canada's Prayer Book of 1959, and also the 2004 version of the Book of Common Prayer for the Church of Ireland, restored a form of Compline to Anglican worship. Several contemporary liturgical texts, including the American 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the Anglican Church of Canada's Book of Alternative Services, and the Church of England's Common Worship, provide modern forms of the service. A traditional form is provided in the Anglican Service Book (1991). The Common Worship service consists of the opening sentences, the confession of sins, the psalms and other Bible lessons, the canticle of Simeon, and prayers, including a benediction. There are authorised alternatives for the days of the week and the seasons of the Christian year. As a public service of worship, like Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, Compline may be led by a layperson.
Among Lutherans, Compline has re-emerged as an alternative to Vespers. The Office of Compline is included in the various Lutheran books of worship and prayer books (along with Matins/Morning Prayer and Vespers/Evening Prayer). Quite similar to Anglican use, in some Lutheran Churches Compline may be conducted by a layperson.
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