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The liturgy used by the Minnesota Compline Choir can be found on page 154 in the front of the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW). What follows is some background information on the history and stucture of the worship service.

An Ancient Tradition
About the Liturgy
Complete Liturgical Texts

An Ancient Tradition

The Compline service, known in current liturgy as "Prayer at the Close of the Day", is descended from the earliest Christian (and even earlier Jewish) traditions of the Divine Office, individual times for prayer set at fixed intervals throughout the day. (For reference, Matins and Vespers represent two of the other Offices.)

Compline constitutes the final Office of daily prayer and is traditionally said each day just before retiring. The service derives its name from a Latin word meaning 'completion' (completorium). The earliest forms of the liturgy were developed within the monastic communities of medieval Europe. Historians often credit St. Benedict (480-543) with the initial compilation of the Compline liturgy through his Rule of Benedict, first composed in Italy about 530 AD.

The tone of the service, which takes place in almost total darkness, is contemplation, peace and serenity. There are no processions, no sermon, no offering. The service is made up almost entirely of music and short scripture readings. Though the congregation is invited to join in the confession of sins and the Lord's Prayer, the service is mainly intended to provide an opportunity for private prayer and reflection by the congregation while the choir sings an elegant liturgy based on ancient Gregorian chant melodies.

The text of the liturgy is almost as ancient as the service itself, having scarcely changed in hundreds of years. It draws gentle parallels between the daily rest provided by sleep and our own final rest: "The Lord almighty grant us a quiet night and peace at the last." It includes the chanting of Christ's final words on the cross ("Into your hands…") , and the Song of Simeon ("Lord now you let your servant go in peace…", also known as Nunc Dimittis). In addition, each service includes an anthem, a "night" hymn and one or more psalms. At the end of the 30-minute service, after the Benediction is sung, all participants and the congregation disperse in silence.

The structure of the service is relatively fixed, and the repetition of chant and prayer, taken together with its simplicity, forms the heart of the worship experience. The service seeks to provide the worshipper with a setting in which daily concerns are released before sleep. When said weekly, it provides an environment in which to contemplate and release the cares of the preceding week and prepare spiritually for the new challenges to come.

About the Liturgy

The following article is adapted from the "Manual on the Liturgy" written by Philip H. Pfatteicher and Carlos Messerli. Mr. Messerli is also the composer of this setting of the liturgy.


This service is designed to bring the day to a quiet close. The form is relatively fixed and unchanging. The unadorned traditional Gregorian melodies provided for Prayer at the Close of the Day reflect the spirit of the hour and should be sung without elaboration or embellishment. It is contrary to the spirit of the service to have processions and other festive ceremonies. All that is done should convey the spirit of serenity.


The opening verse draws a parallel between sleep at night and sleep in death (and is echoed in the second prayer at the end of the service). Yet, in the face of the dying of the day and of human life, the note of praise is sounded in the next verses.

The hymn is a night hymn and is to be distinguished from the principal hymn which follows the lesson and the responsory. This night hymn is parallel to the Venite in Morning Prayer and to "Joyous Light of Glory" in Vespers. Accompaniment should be simple and may be omitted altogether.

The form of confession is the historic, reciprocal form, which is interesting and instructive, showing the "priesthood of all believers." It is the only time in the liturgy that the leader makes confession before the people, who then declare God's forgiveness. The congregation then makes confession and the leader announces God's forgiveness to them. This form of the confession is especially appropriate in penitential seasons.


The traditional Compline Psalms are 4, 91, and 134. Other appropriate psalms are accepted. Eash Psalm is sung or said, the leader says the appropriate psalm prayer.


Prayer at the Close of the Day has not been the occasion for long readings from the Scriptures. The brief lessons (sometimes called "the little chapter") serve as concise statements of the spirit of the service and the close of the day. It is a useful change from the longer readings at other services. The lessons should be read slowly and deliberately.

A sermon, homily, or exposition of the readings is not desirable at this service. It is even less a service of proclamation than the other offices are. It is rather the occasion for quiet meditation and praise.

The Responsory is sung after the readings. The ancient form of the Responsory is preserved in text and music.

The Hymn

This hymn is the Office Hymn, the principal hymn of the service. It reflects the time of day and perhaps the season of the year. It may be sung without accompaniment.

The Prayers

The verses are from Psalm 17; the central pair of verses -- "Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings" -- are traditional for Compline. Additional prayers may be included. The Our Father concludes the prayers. The substitution of another form of prayers in this service is not desirable for that would disturb the basically unchanging text that by its simplicity and repetition endears itself to those who pray it.

Gospel Canticle

The traditional Gospel Canticle for Compline is the Nunc Dimittis, the Song of Simeon. Simeon had watched long for the coming of Christ and at last held the Savior in his arms and knew that the old promises had now been fulfilled. This canticle, unlike the canticles in Morning and Evening Prayer, does not follow the reading and precede the prayers. The service concludes with the singing of the Song of Simeon as the departure song of the people of God. With this song and the Gloria Patri their praise is concluded for the day.

The antiphon, "Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake we may watch with Christ and asleep we may rest in peace," itself a splendid prayer of trust, is always used with the Gospel Canticle. The use of seasonal antiphons at this point is not desirable.

The service concludes with the benediction, followed by the quiet dispersal of the congregation.

Copyright © 1979 Augsburg Publishing House

Complete Liturgical Texts

Opening Sentences

The Lord almighty grant us a quiet night and peace at the last. Amen

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praise to your name, O Most High;

to herald your love in the morning,
your truth at the close of the day.


I confess to God Almighty, before the whole company of heaven, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned in thought, word, and deed by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault; wherefore I pray God Almighty to have mercy on me, forgive me all my sins, and bring me to everlasting life. Amen

The almighty and merciful Lord grant you pardon, forgiveness, and remission of all your sins. Amen


Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Into your hands I commend my spirit.

You have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.
Into your hands I commend my spirit.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
Into your hands I commend my spirit.


Hear my prayer, O Lord;
listen to my cry.

Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings.

In righteousness I shall see you;
when I awake, your presence will give me joy.

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

Gospel Canticle

Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake we may watch with Christ and asleep we may rest in peace.

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of ev'ry people: a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen

Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake we may watch with Christ and asleep we may rest in peace.


The almighty and merciful Lord, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, bless us and keep us. Amen

This page last modified on January 21, 2010
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