Review: The Office of Compline

The Liturgy of the Hours is unique among the devotions of the Church because it is liturgy, it unites the Church in prayer before God.  However the Liturgy of the Hours is also difficult to learn individually.  Compline is usually recommended as the easiest hour to begin praying, because it is shorter and repeats on a weekly cycle instead of a four week cycle.  This book is the best introduction to praying Compline and to the general structure of the Hours that I have ever found.

The Office of Compline is a sturdy hardcover volume, which looks like it will hold up well under many years of daily use.  The binding is strong with an attached ribbon marker, and the paper used is substantial.  The text is two tone, red and black, for instructions and prayers respectively.  Latin and English are provided on facing pages.  If Latin is being used, this permits one to follow along easily in English.

The most unique aspect of this book is that in addition to providing the office of Compline, it is also set to music for those who wish to sing their prayer.  While one is not required to sing, having the music available distinguishes The Office of Compline from Christian Prayer and the four volume set of the Liturgy of the Hours.  The chant settings supplied are beautiful, composed by Fr. Samuel Weber O.S.B. from the Institute of Sacred Music.  They look relatively simple to learn, if one is already familiar with chant.

The forward, by Cardinal Burke, discusses the importance of the Liturgy of the Hours in the Church, and the significance of Compline as the final prayer of the day.  It also illuminates the appropriateness of Compline in the domestic church as the prayer of the family before retiring.

After the forward, there is a clear set of directions for Compline where the appropriate postures and gestures are indicated for use in communal recitation.  The rest of the volume is divided up into sections:  the Ordinary, the prayers for each day of the week, and the hymnal.

The Ordinary contains the parts of Compline that do not typically change from day to day.  Some parts, especially the chant settings, do change according to the time of year, but the red text above each variation will direct you to the appropriate version for the current liturgical season.  The red text will also instruct you when to turn to the psalmody, readings, and prayer specific to each day.  Overall this section is laid out very clearly.

At the end of the Ordinary are five Marian antiphons in Latin, with chant settings.  This is one limitation of this volume.  Where every other section has both an English chant setting as well as a Latin one, the Marian antiphons only have chant settings in Latin.  There are English translations at the bottom of the page, but no music.  Four of these antiphons (Alma Redemptoris Mater,  Ave Regina Caelorum, Regina Caeli, and Salve Regina) have both a complex and a simple chant setting.  Sub Tuum Praesidium has only a simple setting.

The daily sections are somewhat more confusing, and this is caused by two problems in how the psalms are laid out with their chant settings.  The first problem lays in the musical notation for flex verses, which are verses with three lines that the music needs to accommodate.  In this volume, the first verse of the psalm is printed with chant setting indicating how the verses are to be sung.  Subsequent verses are pointed.  But Saturday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday have psalms with flex verses.  The extra line of chant for this flex verse is just appended to the end of the first verse, regardless as to where the flex verse is actually located in the psalm.  This isn’t just a musical confusion.  The way it is currently laid out, it is entirely logical tack the flex verse on to the end of the first verse.  Wednesday’s second psalm is particularly confusing in this manner.  The second, and less severe, problem is that while every day’s psalmody has a different antiphon for Paschaltide, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday have completely different chant settings as well, and therefore the psalms are printed twice.  It is very easy for a beginner to become confused and say or sing the psalmody twice on these days.  Both of these confusions could have been minimized by using the standard practice of printing the antiphon chant notation with the psalm tone given at its end.  Thankfully, the remainder of the daily sections, the readings and prayers, are perfectly straightforward.

The last section is the hymnal.  While this section looks quite lengthy, it is primarily composed of different musical settings of the same two hymns, O Christ, Who Art The Light and Day, and Before the Ending of the Day for use during different times of the liturgical year.

Overall, in spite of the potential for confusion in the daily psalmody, this is the clearest version of Compline that I have ever encountered.  It remains accessible for those who wish to read Compline, while also providing the necessary resources to sing the hour.  It contains both Latin and English.  It is inexpensive compared to Christian Prayer, and easier for a beginner to learn from.  And it is a beautiful way to begin praying communally with your family.  If you are interested in either the Liturgy of the Hours, or developing a tradition of family prayer before bed, this book is an excellent resource.

You can purchase this book here.

I wrote this review of Office of Compline for the free Catholic Book review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods, your source for Baptism Gifts and Oplatki Christmas Wafers.

Tiber River is the first Catholic book review site, started in 2000 to help you make informed decisions about Catholic book purchases.  I receive free product samples as compensation for writing reviews for Tiber River.  But I paid for this book out of my own pocket because I wanted to learn to sing Compline.

My opinions, glowing or scathing, are always my own.  I am incapable of changing them to make anyone happy, not even myself.

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