Fr. Ross Guthrie
I have a confession, and it’s embarrassing. Ever since I was a boy, I’ve been scared of the dark. I’ve overcome a lot in my life, but fear of the dark is still present with me. Going to bed still brings an anxiety that I avoid by staying up late. I’ve always wanted my children to feel safe at night, so early on in our parenting, Katherine and I prayed with our children before bedtime. We still do it to this day.
There is a name for the prayers we say at the end of the day. It’s called Compline (pronounced “COM-plin”), and it literally means “the completed hour.” As Anglicans, our Book of Common Prayer has a guide for praying our “night prayers.”
Before the invention of artificial lighting, most people were marked with a deep anxiety about the dangers of the nighttime. Fear of attack or crime, of fire, of the supernatural, of nocturnal animals, of nightmares—these were all reasons to be fearful of the nighttime hours.
In addition to these fears, going to sleep each night is also a rehearsal for our imminent death. Jesus referred to those who died as if they were asleep. Night prayers were and are essential to combating the dangers and fears accompanied by the darkness.
And so, our prayer book prompts us to begin each night: “The Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end. Amen.” We follow with a time of confession and absolution. We then pray the Psalms as a reminder to trust in God. My children say each night, “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Ps. 4:8).
Prayers are offered and a hymn is sung. And then, a collect or prayer such as this is offered: “Be our light in the darkness, O Lord, and in your great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love or your only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.”
A few other prayers can be offered and then we conclude our night prayers with the Song of Simeon,
which is a request for Jesus to be present with us in the darkness as he is the Light of the world and the Light to enlighten the nations.
May God inhabit your nightly prayers and may you pray confidently: “Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.”
To learn more about praying Compline, join us at All Saints on Monday, December 3 at 6:30 p.m. as Barbara Reed will teach us about closing the day with prayer.