The last prayer of the day; it closes the day's liturgical office. Its content shows it is meant to be prayed just before retiring for the night. Compline originated in monastic circles. John cassian (d. 435) is the first to refer to it. In describing monastic practices of his day he mentions that Eastern monks were accustomed on Sunday nights to join in singing a few Psalms in their dormitory (De instit. cenob. 4.19; Patrologia Latina, 49:179). The rule of Aurelian of Arles (d. 585) called for monks to recite Psalm 90 and Preces before retiring (Patrologia Latina, 68:395, 405).
Historically, Compline had two distinct parts, first a preliminary period of spiritual reading and confession of faults, and lastly the prayers for retiring. As to the first part, St. benedict (d. 543) is the first witness to this practice and he prescribed four or five pages of Cassian's Conferences or the lives of the Fathers (Rule, ch. 42). A custom developed also of having the monks publicly accuse themselves of the day's faults and receive an absolution before the chanting of the Psalms (S. Fructuosi Regula monachorum, 2; Patrologia Latina, 87:1099). The second part of Compline arose from the basic structure of the Benedictine hours—three Psalms, a hymn, a lesson and responsory, the canticle of Simeon (Lk 2.29), an oration, and final blessing. In his rule, St. Benedict (Rule, ch. 18) prescribed the same Psalms daily (4, 90, 133: Sunday's Psalms in the Roman Office), a hymn, lesson, responsory, and blessing.
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy decreed that Compline was to be revised so that it would be a suitable prayer at end of the day. In its revised form in the liturgy of the hours (1970), it is a beautiful night prayer of profound trust in the protecting presence of Christ.
[g. e. schidel/eds.]
com·pline / ˈkämplin; -ˌplīn/ • n. a service of evening prayers forming part of the Divine Office of the Western Christian Church, traditionally said (or chanted) before retiring for the night.