On Canticle 4: Quaerite Dominum

This canticle was introduced in the 1979 Prayer Book and recommended to be used as the first Canticle in Morning Prayer on Fridays outside of Lent, and the first Canticle in Evening Prayer on Tuesdays.

Seek the Lord while he wills to be found; * call upon him when he draws near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways * and the evil ones their thoughts;
And let them turn to the Lord, and he will have compassion, * and to our God, for he will richly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, * nor your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, * so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as rain and snow fall from the heavens * and return not again, but water the earth,
Bringing forth life and giving growth, * seed for sowing and bread for eating,
So is my word that goes forth from my mouth; * it will not return to me empty;
But it will accomplish that which I have purposed, * and prosper in that for which I sent it.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Taken from Isaiah 55, this canticle starts off with a penitential tone: “Seek the Lord while he wills to be found… Let the wicked forsake their ways… let them turn to the Lord.”  But this penitential aspect doesn’t overpower the Canticle; the bulk of Quaerite Dominum focuses on God’s redemptive work, especially with images of creation.  God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours, the water cycle is a picture of God’s providence, the harvest cycle is a picture of God’s providence, the cycle of God’s Word is a picture of God’s providence.  Furthermore, the accomplishment of God’s purpose and the prospering of his Word at the end of the Canticle together suggest eschatological themes, pictures of the End of the Age, making Quaerite Dominum appropriate not only for Lent but also Advent.

On Canticle 3: Kyrie Pantokrator

The Prayer of Manasseh is from the Ecclesiastical books (or Apocrypha).  It serves as an appendix to 2 Chronicles, elaborating on the reference to King Manasseh’s prayer of repentance in chapter 33, and has been used in Byzantine and Mozaribic liturgies during Lent.  It was shortened for use as a Canticle in the 1979 Book, recommended as the first Canticle in Morning Prayer for Sundays and Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent, and the first Canticle in Evening Prayer on Mondays in Lent.

This Canticle omits the Gloria Patri, as it did in 1979.  There was a practice in Western liturgy, before the Reformation, of omitting the Gloria Patri during Holy Week or at other penitential times.  Because Kyrie Patokrator is a penitential Canticle, it is appropriate not to append it with the Gloria Patri.

O Lord and Ruler of the hosts of heaven,* God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,  and of all their righteous offspring:
You made the heavens and the earth, * with all their vast array.
All things quake with fear at your presence; * they tremble because of your power.
But your merciful promise is beyond all measure; * it surpasses all that our minds can fathom.
O Lord, you are full of compassion, *     long-suffering, and abounding in mercy.
You hold back your hand; * you do not punish as we deserve.
In your great goodness, Lord, you have promised forgiveness to sinners, * that they may repent of their sin and be saved.
And now, O Lord, I bend the knee of my heart, * and make my appeal, sure of your gracious goodness.
I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned, * and I know my wickedness only too well.
Therefore I make this prayer to you: * Forgive me, Lord, forgive me.
Do not let me perish in my sin, * nor condemn me to the depths of the earth.
For you, O Lord, are the God of those who repent, * and in me you will show forth your goodness.
Unworthy as I am, you will save me, in accordance with your great mercy, * and I will praise you without ceasing all the days of my life.
For all the powers of heaven sing your praises, * and yours is the glory to ages of ages. Amen.

As with Canticle 2 , this Canticle is shortened from its original chapter form.  Also some of the hyperbolic language of the Prayer of Manasseh is toned down so as not to confuse the worshiper unfamiliar with the context of the original text.  Kyrie Pantokrator in particular, among all the Canticles in this Prayer Book, is a marvelous offering of penitential worship.  In this age where so many run fast and loose with sin, the strong language of condemnation and here do us a world of spiritual good.  We deserve punishment, but God is a merciful God who promises forgiveness.  We must bent the knee of our hearts, making our appeal, knowing our wickedness only too well.  Although we don’t deserve it, God is the God of those who repent, and thus the penitent is set upon a trajectory of eternal gratitude, to praise God without ceasing for ever.

On Canticle 2: Surge, illuminare

This canticle was introduced in the Canadian Prayer Books as an Additional Canticle, and adopted in the 1979 Prayer Book to be used as the first Canticle in Morning Prayer on Sundays in Advent and Wednesdays outside of Lent, and the first Canticle on Thursdays in Evening Prayer.  It was also appointed for Lauds on the feast of the Epiphany in the Mozaribic rite.

Arise, shine, for your light has come, * and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.
For behold, darkness covers the land; * deep gloom enshrouds the peoples.
But over you the Lord will rise, * and his glory will appear upon you.
Nations will stream to your light, * and kings to the brightness of your dawning.
Your gates will always be open; * by day or night they will never be shut.
They will call you, The City of the Lord, * the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.
Violence will no more be heard in your land,* ruin or destruction within your borders.
You will call your walls, Salvation,* and all your portals, Praise.
The sun will no more be your light by day; * by night you will not need the brightness of the moon.
The Lord will be your everlasting light, * and your God will be your glory.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,world without end. Amen.

Isaiah 60 is one of the iconic lectionary appointments for the feast of the Epiphany.  This Canticle, being a distillation of that chapter, provides an excellent meditation on the great themes of Epiphanytide: the dawning of the light of Christ over a dark world, nations and kings streaming to the Lord, the openness of the City of God to all the world, peace between Gentile and Jew and neighbor, and all because of the perpetual light of God made visible in the face of Jesus Christ.

On Canticle 1: Magna et mirabilia

This Canticle was introduced in the Roman Breviary in 1970, and adopted by the 1979 Prayer Book to be used as the second Canticle in Morning Prayer on Tuesdays, Thursdays in Advent and Lent, and Saturdays.

O ruler of the universe, Lord God, great deeds are they that you have done, *
surpassing human understanding.
Your ways are ways of righteousness and truth,*

O King of all the ages.
Who can fail to do you homage, Lord, and sing the praises of your Name? *

for you only are the Holy One.
All nations will draw near and fall down before you, *

because your just and holy works have been revealed.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; *

as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Taken from Revelation 15, this brief canticle praises God as the great King of all creation.  Its emphasis on God’s rule, and the falling down of the nations before him after his “just and holy works have been revealed” makes it especially suitable for use both in Advent (where its eschatological tone can stand out) and Easter (with its glorious emphasis on the divine victory).

On the Canticle “Benedictus es”

Among the Ecclesiastical Books (or Apocrypha) is The Song of the Three Young Men, sometimes translated “Three Boys”, which contains two hymns of praise – the first attributed to Azariah and the second to all three.  The second, longer, hymn is Benedicite, omnia opera Domini, and was the alternative to the Te Deum in the classical Prayer Books.  In 1928 the shorter of these hymns, Benedictus es, Domine, was added as an additional choice of Canticle in this place.  In the 1979 Prayer Book it was recommended to be used as the first Canticle in Morning Prayer on Tuesdays, and the first Canticle in Evening Prayer on Fridays.  Eastern, Mozaribic, and Roman breviaries also appointed the Benedictus es in their liturgies.

This Canticle ends with a modified Gloria Patri, edited to fit the formula of the preceding verses.  Although the 1928 Prayer Book ended this Canticle without an extra doxological verse, it did end the Song of the Three Young Men (our Canticle 10) with a modified Gloria much like this one.

Glory to you, Lord God of our fathers; * you are worthy of praise; glory to you.
Glory to you for the radiance of your holy Name; * we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.
Glory to you in the splendor of your temple; * on the throne of your majesty, glory to you.
Glory to you, seated between the Cherubim; *    we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.
Glory to you, beholding the depths; * in the high vault of heaven, glory to you.
Glory to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; * we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.

The words of this Canticle praise God for his power and eternality – his Name and his resplendent Temple and throne in the high vault of heaven – which anyone can acknowledge to God even in the worst of personal circumstances, making it an excellent hymn of praise for penitential times like Lent, as the rubric indicates.

The Collects for the Day of the Week

In the 2019 Prayer Book’s Daily Office, we have a collect for each day of the week. This is an adaptation of the collects offered in the 1979 Prayer Book, but before then in the Prayer Book there were fixed collects: the Collect of the Day, followed by two in the morning and two in the evening. Additional (optional) collects were usually offered in most Prayer Books, too, but those lists eventually grew longer and became the “appendix” of occasional prayers in the modern books.

Here is a quick handy guide to previous posts about the various collects in the 2019 Book.

Collect of the Day: why?

Morning Prayer

Evening Prayer

The Prayers for Mission

Finishing Compline

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.

Bedtime Prayers, Old & New

The versicles and responses are taken from Psalms 31:6 and 17:8, and have been part of the Compline tradition for centuries. They set the prayers’ tone with expressions of commendation and trust.  Appealing to God’s completed work of redemption we entrust our spirit, and hide ourselves, in his protective arms “as a hen gathers her chicks” (Matt. 23:37 & Luke 13:34).

Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit;
For you have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of truth.
Keep me, O Lord, as the apple of your eye;
Hide me under the shadow of your wings.


The First Collect is a traditional collect for Compline in the Western liturgy. It is a quintessential Compline prayer in Western tradition, imploring the protection of God and his angels against “all snares of the enemy”, dovetailing neatly with the traditional reading from 1 Peter 5.

Visit this place, O Lord, and drive far from it all snares of the enemy; let your holy angels dwell with us to preserve us in peace; and let your blessing be upon us always; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Second Collect is the Collect for Aid Against Perils in Evening Prayer.  As its history has alternated its home between Vespers and Compline, it appropriately shows up in both in the present Prayer Book.

Lighten our darkness, we beseech you, O Lord; and by your great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of your only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Third Collect is an ancient prayer that, throughout the 20th century, has made its way into the Compline services of several Anglican Prayer Books. As the pace of modern life continues to increase, the heart of this prayer grows ever more relevant to the typical worshiper: the “changes and chances of this life” are indeed quite wearying, it is only in the “eternal changeless” of God that we can find protection through both literal night and in the spiritual night of death.

Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Fourth Collect is also an ancient prayer that has become a standard Compline collect in Anglican Prayer Books.  The wording of the latter half of this prayer was re-written in the 1979 Prayer Book, and is here restored to its original meaning. Returning to the imagery of light and darkness, this prayer brings us to the themes of illumination and cleansing.  The “celestial brightness” of God invokes God’s appearance throughout Ezekiel 1 and similar passages, and we implore our gloriously bright God to sanctify us – to cast out the works of darkness from among us.  This is reflective of both the worshiper’s act of repentance at the end of the day and of the Christian’s final acts of reconciliation before death.

Look down, O Lord, from your heavenly throne, illumine this night with your celestial brightness, and from the children of light banish the deeds of darkness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect for Saturdays is from the Taizé community tradition, adapted in 1979 and retained here. It is very similar to the Collect for the Eve of Worship (in Evening Prayer).  The resurrection of Jesus is likened to light, in continuity with typical Compline imagery, and we look forward to the morning’s time of worship.  The “paschal mystery” is the heart of the weekly rhythm of worship, every Sunday an Easter of sorts, so Saturday night is rightly a time of joyful anticipation of that approaching celebration.

We give you thanks, O God, for revealing your Son Jesus Christ to us by the light of his resurrection: Grant that as we sing your glory at the close of this day, our joy may abound in the morning as we celebrate the Paschal mystery; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Evening Prayer’s Second Prayer for Mission, although relatively new to the Prayer Book tradition, has become a popular favorite, and thus is enjoyed both in Evening Prayer and in Compline.  Its night-time appeals arguably befit Compline better, given its similarities to other historic Compline collects.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your 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 your love’s sake. Amen.

Functionally similar to the previous prayer, this last collect more directly points the worshiper to intercession for workers of the nightshift – a reality that has only become more pronounced since its authorship.  The interconnectedness of society mirrors the unity of the Body of Christ, some praying while others sleep, and keeps the worshiper engaged with the larger realities of creation rather than being too focused on the personally immediate and present. Alternatively entitled “for Those Who Work While Others sleep,” this was written for the 1979 Prayer Book by its long-time custodian, the Rev. Dr. Charles M. Guilbert.

O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Fasting has a Purpose

Fasting is perhaps the most prominent and well-known feature of the season of Lent, even though many people today don’t practice it. One of the issues that presents itself to people seems to be that fasting is often misunderstood. Since today is Friday, a fast day, let’s take a look at a few examples of what fasting isn’t, and what it actually is.

Fasting is not an end unto itself

Simply “giving something up for Lent” or refraining from eating certain foods at certain times does not make a person more holy. All foods were created for our enjoyment, provided we give thanks to God. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). Fasting, however, is a powerful tool in the toolbox of spiritual disciplines if used rightly. Fasting is a discipline that we can celebrate and use in conjunction with prayer and alms-giving. You can read more about that connection in Isaiah 58 and in part of this short article.

Fasting is not abstinence

It is not always clear in the Bible, but there is a difference between fasting and abstinence. Fasting is a reduction, abstinence is an elimination. When Moses, Jesus, or others fasted for 40 days, it does not typically mean that they ate or drank nothing at all – the human body can survive without food that long if properly prepared, but certainly not without water. One might appeal to divine providence in certain cases, but to belabor that point would be to miss the spiritual point: the discipline of fasting before special occasions or for special intercessory or penitential purposes is valuable to every believer. To fast is to reduce the amount or luxury of a thing. The biggest traditional example of this is to cut meat out of the diet because eating meat was associated with feasting, celebration, even worship. If you want some tips on what fasting might look like in today’s world, you can check out this article.

Fasting is not self-harm

Again, fasting is a spiritual discipline. It is geared toward exercising self-denial such that your spiritual attentions are provoked and improved in some way. Thus, fasting in such a way that your health suffers is not a true fast. The goal is redirect your passions, not make yourself sick. This is not about self-punishment, but self-control. This is why, traditionally, the young, the old, the sick, and pregnant women have been exempt from rules of fasting. It’s not that we’re going easy on “the weak”, but that people must not be encouraged to harm themselves. If you’re on medication, have dietary issues, or other food-related situation, fasting from food is something that you should not pursue without pastoral and medical advice.

Fasting is not just about food

Last of all, there are many other things that can be reduced or eliminated by way of the spiritual discipline of fasting. Social media, television, other activities of leisure or entertainment, are all excellent examples of things that can profitably be reduced or set aside for the sake of increased spiritual pursuits. Don’t get hung up on “I’m giving up chocolate for Lent!” when there are so many other possibilities out there. Look to where your habits and desires are found, and explore ways to curb and control those habits and desires – that is where you truly learn self-control.

The Lessons at Compline

Traditional orders for Compline did not have a Scripture lesson as such, though the devotional reading of 1 Peter 5:8-9a has been a mainstay of the office – often near the beginning of the liturgy.  As the Office of Compline entered into the 20th century the lessons (both in Anglican and Roman practice) took on a distinct position in the liturgy, mirroring the other Offices in the daytime.  The Canadian and American Prayer Books of 1962 and 1979 included three readings from Jeremiah 14, Matthew 11, and Hebrews 13, as does the Church of England’s Common Prayer (2000).  The additional readings from 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10, 5:23, and Ephesians 4:26-27 (and Jeremiah 14:9a again) are drawn by the modern Roman Liturgy of the Hours.

The Four Primary Scripture Lessons in the 2019 Prayer Book:

Jeremiah 14:9

Particularly appropriate for Fridays and other penitential days, this verse comes from a plea for mercy despite Israel’s sins.  Famine and disaster has struck, yet despite their unworthiness Jeremiah pleads for God to save his people once more.  As the worshiper prepares to sleep, this verse echoes the same cry of the heart: “Leave us not!”

Matthew 11:28-30

One of the Comfortable Words in the Communion service is found here, taking a more literal context of finding “rest” after the burden of the day.

Hebrews 13:20-21

These verses are a benediction, delivering the blessed promise of sanctification at God’s hand.  The image of being “brought again from the dead” is a source of peace in preparation for sleep.

1 Peter 5:8-9

This is the quintessential Compline verse.  It highlights the spiritual danger typified by sleep, and the need for wakefulness.  In this sense it also provides the raison d’être for the service of Compline: it is our act of sober-minded watchfulness at night, resisting the prowling darkness that surrounds us at this time of night.

The Seven Additional Scripture Lessons:

Isaiah 26:3-4

The promise of God’s “perfect peace” upon those “whose mind is stayed” on him is “an everlasting rock” of hope, appropriate for bedtime.

Isaiah 30:15

This is the verse that inspired the popular Collet for Quiet Confidence (#82 on BCP 670), and provides another liturgical purpose for the Office of Compline: return and rest in the Lord.

Matthew 6:31-34

Putting the mind at ease at the end of the day can be difficult, and the Lord’s exhortation “Seek first the kingdom of God… do not be anxious about tomorrow” can be precisely the correction one needs right before bed.

2 Corinthians 4:6

The imagery of light shining out of darkness is a straight-forward connection to the devotional place of Compline in the overall life of worship.

1 Thessalonians 5:9-10

The death/sleep versus life/awake theme is evoked in these verses, infusing our act of going to sleep as an act of faith and trust in God’s predestination and Christ’s death for us.

1 Thessalonians 5:23

This verse is another benediction, and the language of being “kept” is appropriate for the context of Compline.  As we sleep, only God can keep us; in the same way, only God can keep us blameless and sanctify us completely before the dawn of Christ’s return.

Ephesians 4:26-27

Similar to 1 Peter 5:8-9, these verses remind us of the active danger of the devil and our need to take action to give him “no opportunity.” Specifically, the worshiper is reminded to give up sinful anger before the day is over – Compline is our last chance to repent before we sleep!