In short, Compline is a sung prayer service.
As is characteristic of monastic offices, Compline consists of psalms, short passages from scripture (chapters), an office hymn, a canticle (Nunc Dimittis), a litany, collects and additional prayers. In keeping with the earliest practices of the monastic communities, Compline is offered when the work of the day is completed, and the quietness of evening settles over the hearts and minds of those who have come together in thankfulness for the blessings of the day which has passed, and in anticipation of God’s gift of a new day.
The Office of Compline originated and developed in southern Europe and the Middle East during the first six hundred years of Christianity. At first, Compline was offered primarily by the monastic communities, but as Christian influence spread throughout Europe and the Mediterranean area, the offices found a place in local liturgical settings. By the time of the Reformation in the 16th century, a large number of breviaries—books which contained the texts and music of the offices—were available for recitation.
© 1994 Carl Crosier. Reproduced here by permission.