The Night Office, usually called Compline, is a pleasant little piece of liturgy that was just too beloved to die.  When the first Prayer Book was released, its adherents were criticized by Papists for having only two daily Offices – Morning/Mattins and Evening Prayer.  Although the Cranmerian genius was to streamline elements of the medieval monastic seven-fold office into two, popular devotional manuals quickly arose to provide people with orders for midday prayer and compline for their own private prayers.  John Cosin is one noteworthy contributor in this area, having re-created all the monastic canonical Hours in a Prayer Book friendly manner.

So in that regard it was no great surprise that eventually they would reappear in an actual Prayer Book.  Both the 1979 and the 2019 Books have Compline, and I think the Church is the richer for it, even though this office has many “redundancies” with Evening Prayer.

Our order for Compline is a bit different from its medieval forebear and its modern Roman counterpart.  Most of the ingredients are the same, but their arrangement has shuffled somewhat.  In particular, the diversity of Scripture readings now offered by Rome’s Liturgy of the Hours and the 2019 Prayer Book alike is something of an innovation on previous tradition.

To my knowledge, the primary reading for Compline, and possible the only one in monastic practice (we’d have to check) is 1 Peter 5:8-9 Be sober-minded, be watchful…  But now we have four choices printed in our Prayer Book:

  1. Jeremiah 14:9 You, O Lord, are in the midst of us…
  2. Matthew 11:28-30 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden…
  3. Hebrews 13:20-21 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead…
  4. 1 Peter 5:8-9 Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls…

To these the Additional Directions on page 65 add seven more possibilities:

  1. Isaiah 26:3-4  You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you…
  2. Isaiah 30:15  Thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest…
  3. Matthew 6:31-34  Do not be anxious, saying “What shall we eat?…
  4. 2 Corinthians 4:6  For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness”…
  5. 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10  God has not destined us for wrath…
  6. 1 Thessalonians 5:23  Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you…
  7. Ephesians 4:26-27  Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down…

The purpose for these additions is that if Compline is said every day, especially in a group setting, having more readings to draw from may be desired and beneficial.  But it lists these seven as additional options, not the sum total.  That means you can read whatever you want, actually.  But the best advice is this: stick to something very short, and don’t vary it up too much. Compline is meant to be a short devotional time, not a lengthy study of the Scriptures.  Morning and Evening Prayer is where we are primarily meant together around the Bible and listen.  Minor Offices like Compline are supposed to be more prayer-oriented and reflective.

So stick to a small rotation of readings, allowing you or your group to gain familiarity with these verses, and draw deeper from the well of Sacred Scripture during this quiet time of prayer.

If you want a guide to how you might rotate them, this is how I’ve ordered them for the Saint Aelfric Customary.

  • Sunday (Advent through Epiphanytide) – 2 Corinthians 4:6
  • Sunday (Pre-Lent and Lent) – Matthew 11:28-30
  • Sunday (Easter through Trinity) – Hebrews 13:20-21
  • Sunday (after Trinity through Proper 16) – Isaiah 26:3-4
  • Sunday (Proper 17-29) – Isaiah 30:15
  • Monday – 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10
  • Tuesday – 1 Peter 5:8-9
  • Wednesday – Ephesians 4:26-27
  • Thursday – 1 Thessalonians 5:23
  • Friday – Jeremiah 14:9
  • Saturday – Matthew 6:31-34

What I did was write the extra seven verses onto either side of a piece of paper roughly 4″x4″ and taped it gently onto page 61 so it’s like an extra page of Scripture readings along with the standard four.  That way I don’t need to grab a Bible for Compline, which would be particularly silly and bothersome for just a couple sentences to read, and when I’m angling to go to bed in a few minutes.

One thought on “The Readings at Compline

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