Compline in a nutshell

Everything you need to know about compline in one place, right here!

What is it?

Compline derives its name from a Latin word meaning ‘completion’ (completorium). It is an ancient service of quietness and reflection before rest at the end of the day. The service is most effective when the ending is an ending, without further conversation or noise. If compline is held in church, those present depart in silence; if at home, they go quietly to bed.

[From Common Worship, Services and Prayers for the Church of England, Church House Publishing (2000)]

Who is it for?

The service of compline does not require a priest, so can be done from anywhere and with any number of people. Its distinctive character comes from the time of day, said at dusk or by candlelight.

What’s the music like?

Although the service can be spoken or sung to simple chants and hymns, there are many fine settings of the main anthems and hymns:

Te lucis ante terminum - “Before the ending of the day”
In manus tuus Domine - “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit”
Nunc dimittis - “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace”

The beauty of compline remains in its simplicity. When choosing choral repertoire, it’s important to bear this in mind - one “big” item in a Compline is more than enough!

A little history

Though it probably predated it in some forms, Compline’s place in the daily worship of Christian communities in the West can be attributed to Saint Benedict, founder of the Benedictine monastery and father of Western monasticism, who first described Compline in his sixth century “Rule”.  Benedict’s Compline closed the monastic day with a simple recitation of three psalms, silence, a hymn, short reading, prayer, and a blessing.  Later, it was expanded with additional psalms, a confession and the Song of Simeon, found in St Luke’s Gospel, the “Nunc Dimittis”.

During the sixteenth century English Reformation, the daily round of prayer was reduced from eight daily services of prayer or “offices” to just two: Matins, and Evensong. Evensong, unchanged since 1549, unites the distinctive elements of two of these original eight offices into one service: Vespers (the Versicles and Magnificat) and Compline (the Responses and Nunc Dimittis).

Over the last century, there has been a rediscovery of the Office of Compline in Anglican traditions; its relative flexibility and atmosphere mean that it has become popular in a variety of settings. 
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Experience compline

Listen to this ancient service yourself in this digital realisation sung by singers from over 20 cathedrals. The service includes premieres of three brand new settings of the compline texts by leading composers: ‘Together in Unity’ by Bob Chilcott, ‘Nunc Dimittis’ by Joanna Marsh and 'Te lucis ante terminum’ by Paul Mealor.