For many years, we have said nighttime prayers with our kids before bed. For much of that time, we would go around and simply give thanks to God for the day’s blessings. Like any prayer method, this form became stale after a few years. The kids would try to outdo each other in thanking God for silly things, and our two youngest, both boys, had a hard time sitting still. A few months ago, Molly and I decided we needed a change. Now that two of our kids are reading, with a third in the next year or so, it felt like the perfect time to introduce them to the ancient rite of Compline.
Compline (pronounced COM-plin) is a form of prayers to be said right before bedtime. You can find Compline on page 127 in the Book of Common Prayer. The word comes from the Latin completorium, signifying the end of a complete day. There is a longstanding monastic tradition of praying a various points of the day, and Compline was the last hour one prayed before going to sleep. These prayers have been called “compline” since the 6th century, although the tradition existed well before that. I was taught Compline at summer camp, as it was the form of prayer we prayed together at the close of a busy day. Besides the rite of Holy Eucharist, I would say Compline is the most influential liturgy of my spiritual life.
I found very quickly that my kids loved Compline. It’s a brief prayer service, and easy for them to lead themselves. Now, we all take turns leading it. Here are 6 good reasons to introduce this into your own prayer life or the prayer life of your family, especially if you have kids.
1. Compline helps children become leaders and readers. When we started, our oldest was 8 and the next oldest 6, who had finished her first year of reading in school. The first time we did it, I lead it and I asked them to follow along so they could take a turn the next night. This gave them the confidence to know that Compline can be led by anyone. The more they led, the more they loved it. Especially with the 6-year-old, it built her confidence in reading out loud for others. Plus, it was fun for me as a priest, to show them the rhythms of the liturgy, when we pause, when to leave silence, and how to choose options in the liturgy. They also learn to sit still when they hold a book in their laps.
2. Compline teaches us new words. When you read prayers and Scriptures first written and prayed thousands of years ago, you’re bound to come across a word that you don’t recognize. My kids now know words like “countenance,” “crag,” “pestilence,” “heavy-laden,” “adversary,” “celestial brightness,” and “changelessness.”
3. Compline makes you sleepy. This might be true of many liturgies, but we quickly noticed that the two younger boys stopped flopping around during prayers like dead fish. Instead, they would snuggle up closer so they could listen. By the end of Compline, they were both half-asleep and needed to be carried to bed. Compline in tone is akin to a lullaby.
4. Compline reinforces prayers we already know. Even during our “Thank you, God” prayers, we closed with the Lord’s Prayer. Compline includes this, so even when we started, the kids were not completely in the dark. If only we could remember to stop at “…and deliver us from evil.”
5. Compline teaches multiple types of prayer. We had been stuck in “Dear God, thank you for…” for so long, we forgot there were other types of prayer. Compline includes a short confession, which is a great way to remind children that they are forgiven no matter what mistakes they have made. There are prayers of praise, thanksgiving, intercession, and petition in Compline, which makes our prayers much more well-rounded, so that we are not only asking God for personal stuff and thanking God for Scooby-Doo and cupcakes for dessert.
6. Compline bathes us in Scripture. As with most of the Book of Common Prayer, many of the prayers come directly from Scripture. But Compline also includes 4 Psalms of various lengths (strangely enough, my kids choose the longest one, 91, more than any of them), 4 brief readings from other parts of the Bible, and even the Song of Simeon, which we find in Luke chapter 2. These kids are hearing and reading the Bible without us having to say, “Find Deuteronomy 5:17…hurry!” It’s simply washing over them, they are soaking up the words, and when they have a question, we talk about it.
These are just a few benefits to praying Compline. Try it yourself, and I’m sure you’ll find many more!