Although in the classical Anglican Prayer Books the Nunc Dimittis is resident in Evening Prayer, its place in the spirituality of liturgical time most fully comes into its own here in Compline. The language of “let your servant depart in peace” is an integral part of this office’s devotional emphases on sleep as an image of death, and the light of Christ transforming both the worshiper and the world. For further notes, see Evening Prayer.
This Canticle has been a part of the service of Compline since at least the Rule of Saint Benedict, and the antiphon is also of ancient use in the Church. The positioning has shifted in different breviaries – some before the Prayers (such as the Sarum) and some after the Prayers (such as in modern Prayer Books and the Roman Rite). Precise translation of the antiphon into English varies among different sources; ours retains the wording of the 1979 Prayer Book.
The addition of three Alleluias during Eastertide is also a pre-Reformation tradition, marking one of the heightened features of praise during that festal season.
The call and response, Benedicamus in Latin, is a common closure for many offices.
Retained from the 1979 Prayer Book, the final benediction said by the officiant is drawn from the Roman Rite.
The almighty and merciful Lord, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
bless us and keep us, this night and evermore. Amen.
In the monastic setting where most of the daily office tradition was developed, these prayers would be the worshipers’ last words before going (back) to sleep. The benediction is not a formal blessing in the sense of a priest’s role, and thus is proper for an officiant of any order to say. It draws from part of the Aaronic blessing (Numbers 6:24) but is made explicitly Trinitarian and occasioned for Compline in the adding of “this night and evermore.” Although it is a traditional benediction for this office, it is an appropriate final bedtime prayer to use in family settings and other late-evening occasions.