If you are new to the Office, Compline is the best place to start, since it is the same every night, so relatively easy to learn.

Introduction to Compline

Compline is said in the evening, before going to bed, and is, I think, a particularly beautiful hour, helping us deal with the darkness that inevitably surrounds us in this world, as well as the literal night itself.

You can find Compline in the psalter section of the Diurnal, starting at page 256. It is very similar (though not identical) to the traditional Roman Rite version of Compline for Sundays.

A good way to get started is to follow this video - note though that there are some changes you need to make when saying it by yourself, as noted below (and in the post on Diurnal shortcuts and traps).

You could also try following along with the monks of Le Barroux.

The structure of Compline

Compline basically splits into five sections:
  • the first reminds us that we are participants in spiritual warfare, and asks us to reflect on where we have fallen during the day, and commit to repentance;
  • the psalms particularly remind us of the help God gives us as we fulfill our duty to worship him;
  • the hymn, chapter, response and prayers all ask for God's help in getting through the night in good order;
  • a final antiphon (and prayer) for Our Lady;
  • in a monastery, this would be followed by the abbot sprinkling the monks with holy water, usually while the relevant verses of Psalm 50 are chanted. At home, no reason, it seems to me, why you can't use some holy water to bless yourself and recite the verse Asperges me hyssopo (from Psalm 50).
The opening section

Compline starts with a request for a blessing (Jube, domne...). If you were in a monastery, that request would be said by the lector (reader), and then the blessing would be given by the superior. The Diurnal doesn't say this, but at least in the Roman Rite, if you are saying this by yourself, it is customary (but not essential) to change the 'domne' to 'Domine' (the first is just a contraction of the second) to make it clear that you are actually asking Our Lord for a blessing and not a non-existent Father Abbot.

The short reading itself, from the first letter of Peter chapter 5 is definitely one of those verses on spiritual warfare that bears constant repetition and we should all know by heart.

Then comes a verse and response:

Adjutórium † nostrum in nómine Dómini.
Qui fecit cælum et terram.

The little cross sign I've included here is because it is normal to make the sign of the cross here.

The diurnal then instructs you to make an examination of conscience or say an Our Father - how short or long a time you want to take over this is up to you, but this is obviously a good chance to reflect on the day, sort out what needs to be confessed, and make any necessary resolutions.

In the diurnal you should then ignore the version of the Confiteor that follows immediately on page 257 (which is only used in choir, or with a group that includes a priest), and skip over to the bottom of page 258 for the Confiteor...Misereatur..Indulgentium...which should sound fairly familiar to anyone who attends the Traditional Latin Mass. And just as the priest and server do at mass, it is appropriate to make a profound bow as you say the Confiteor.

This section really ends I think with the final call for God's help in our conversion, a reminder of the Benedictine vow of conversion of life (with another sign of the cross here, this time make it with your thumb on your chest):

Convérte nos, + Deus salutáris noster.
Et avérte iram tuam a nobis.

Second opening and psalms

Now that we've hopefully cleansed ourselves at least of our (venial) sins, or at least resolved to do something about them, Compline actually almost seems to start again, this time with the standard opening for all of the hours, Deus, in adjutorium...(and another sign of the cross).

I actually really like this restart feeling, because it seems to me to reinforce the message that in our lives we will inevitably sin, but we have to beg God's forgiveness, pick ourselves up again, and go on. And also that when we approach God to worship him through the liturgy, we should first cleanse our hearts and souls.

The three psalms that follow (without antiphon, but with a Gloria Patri, etc at the end of each) are all obviously carefully chosen for the hour, and are worth studying carefully, verse by verse, with the help of a good commentary as part of your lectio divina. There are some wonderful images here, beautiful poetry, and some messages that I for one need to keep hearing over and over.

Hymn, chapter, verse and ending of the hour

The hymn, chapter and verse are all straightforward rubrics wise as the Diurnal writes everything out in full. Don't forget though to add those alleluias during Eastertide (marked T.P. for Tempore Paschali). And the final section (from the Kyrie) more or less follows the standard pattern for the conclusion all of the hours. The key differences are that the prayer is always the same, a final blessing is added, and tht 'Fidelium animae...' is not said. Also, ignore the instruction in the Diurnal to say 'Divinum auxilium...Et cum fratibus...' after the Marian antiphon - that is only said in choir.

Marian antiphon

The final formal part of Compline is the singing (or saying!) of the antiphon to Our Lady for the season, a beautiful final beautiful way of asking for Our Lady's intercession before, in a monastery at least, the Great Silence begins.

The only thing to note here is that you need to make sure you have the correct antiphon for the season. At the time of writing this it is Eastertide, so I thought you might enjoy this recording of the simple version of the Regina Caeli, generally used during the week, and easy to learn.  For the more ambitious, search youtube and you will find the solemn tone there as well.




In monastery, lector kneels
Fratres…(2 Pet 5:8-9) In a monastery one person reads,   all join in response: Deo Gratias (thanks be to God).
Other readings can be substituted in here

V. Adjutórium nóstrum  in nómine Dómini.
R. Qui fecit cælum et terram.

(Make the sign of the cross)

Bow (profound)
Confiteor Deo…

Use second version (bottom of MD 258) unless saying with a priest
Bow, strike breast x3 at mea culpa.

At absolution
Converte Nos

Sign of cross with thumb over heart

V. Deus (make the sign
of the cross) in adjutórium meum inténde.
R. Dómine, ad adjuvándum me festína.
V. (Bow) Glória Patri, et
Fílio, * et Spirítui
Sancto.(stand straight) R. Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc, et semper, * et in sǽcula sæculórum. Amen.

Alleluia or Laus tibi,
Dómine, Rex ætérnæ glóriæ.

Gloria Patri etc in

Laus tibi is said from Septuagesima
Sunday to Holy


Ps 4, 90, 133
Psalms intoned (first half of verse 1) by cantor.

Verses sung by alternate sides of the choir.

Add Gloria Patri to end of each psalm
Before psalm
starts - stand (if
not already)

First half of verse 1 of psalm
- stay standing

Second half of verse 1 - sit.

Second half of last verse of psalm (or early enough to be ready for the Gloria Patri) - stand

Sancto - bow 

Et in saecula
saeculorum - all

Te Lucis…Amen


Last verse bow

Tu autemR Deo
 Note response

V Custodi nos


[v] Kýrie, eléison.
(R) Christe, eléison.
Kýrie, eléison.
Pater noster...Et ne nos indúcas in tentatiónem: R. Sed líbera nos a malo.

Stand (kneel in
Advent and


Dómine, exáudi oratiónem meam....
(Unless priest or deacon leading)

Note add full conclusion to the collect

Dómine, exáudi oratiónem meam....



(sign of cross)


Varies by time of year – Salve Regina, Alma
Redemptoris Mater, Ave regina caelorum, Regina caeli laetare
Said kneeling except Saturdays,
Sundays and Eastertide.

Varies to fit with antiphon


Varies to fit with antiphon

V.Divínum auxílium máneat semper nobíscum. R. Et cum frátribus nostris abséntibus.

In some places, sign of the cross is made.


expat said...


This is such a great series that you're doing; thanks so much for all your hard work!

I have a general question: do you know of any resources that teach one enough Latin to be able to say the Office?

Terra said...

Expat - there are several around, and I think this topic deserves a separate post, but just as a starter.

On a practical note, it is the Latin that is the approved ecclesiastical text for this office, not the English translations which are intended as a guide only. I've been using the Latin as reference points for that reason, expecting you to look up the meanings in the Diurnal as necessary, but I hope that doesn't make it harder to follow?!

Basically, there are two issues - pronunciation and understanding. I will post some links to a pronuncation guide shortly.

My personal suggestion would be to work on learning it essentially by immersion (then boost your understanding with a grammar text)! Start by getting very familiar with the English, so you know it virtually by heart. Then line by line shift to Latin, keeping an eye on the English to make sure you know what you are saying. Pick out the words that you can match up, and use a dictionary (I'll provide some links to both a written guide and texts to listen to hear what they sound like).

From there you can build up as much as you want to.

In terms of boosting your understanding, it is possible to learn a little about the structure of Latin grammar, and then work systematically with a dictionary and grammar guide (and there is one online that provides all the vocab for the psalms).

If you are interested in this approach, Ralph McInerny's Let's Read Latin (Dumb Ox Books, 1995), is a useful starting point.

Alternatively the Simplicissimus course on the UK Latin Mass Society's website looks quite good and a bit more systematic - it aims to teach enough Latin to understand the (EF/TLM) Mass and its readings, and from there you can build up vocabulary on the psalter.

If you really want to understand the whole of the Office in depth, including the patristic readings at Matins though, you need a more thorough and systematic course, such as Collins' Ecclesiastical Latin or even better, a standard classical latin course.

Terra said...

PS You might want to explore the links form this page:

expat said...

Thanks for the links and advice, Terra. I'll look forward to your post on the topic.

Since I'm living in Europe, and already am studying one foreign language intensively, the more narrowly focused approaches you suggessted will work better for me, although I dearly wish I had the leisure to do a standard Latin course -- not to mention the talent to be able to study two foreign languages at once!

I especially like your suggestion of using the immersion technique.
The Simplicissimus site also looks really helpful.

In response to your comment -- no, your use of Latin as the reference point in these posts hasn't been a problem at all for me. I've been doing just as you have assumed -- looking it up in the Diurnal.

Thanks again!

Mary Jane said...

Hello, Terra!
I'm taking your advice and starting with Compline since I won't have to tangle with Propers and Commons for a bit.

Thanks for your explanation of the two-part feel of Compline. Now the opening section (which was basically truncated out of the Liturgy of the Hours) makes sense as the evening examination of conscience and confession - after that the "hour itself" begins.

Again, great explanations.

Anonymous said...

Thank you sooo much! I purchased this Diurnal two years ago and was so confused as to how to properly use it that I put it away. I cant tell you how often I have wished to use it. Then....I literally stumbled on your site! AWESOME!!!

Thank you. Keep up the good work. I am also hoping to be able to chant some of this but could use a little audio guidance. Any in the works?

Fr. Tim+

Terra said...

Glad it has proved helpful Fr Tim.

I'll certainly consider doing some audio - but not for a few months yet, I'm tied up on other projects!

Mary Jane said...

This order of Compline lacks both the Nunc Dimittis and the short responsory. Is this common monastic (as opposed to non-monastic) practice or something specific to the Benedictines. I did notice that the canticle appears at Compline on Maundy Thursday, Holy Saturday, and All Souls' Day. However, the familiar antiphon "Salva nos" isn't there.
Do you know why?

Terra said...

Mary Jane - When I talk about the "Monastic Office" I usually mean the Benedictine - they were effectively the first and only monastic order for centuries, and their office was essentially the first of the Offices to be written down in all of its details and passed down to us.

There are much later rites specific to some Orders (Carthusian, Carmelite etc) - many of these follow the Benedicitne but not all.

And yes, I do rather miss the Nunc Dimittis etc from the Roman version of the Office!

Mary Jane said...

Thanks, Terra, for your answer. I guess I could just sing the Nunc Dimittis as a special treat outside Compline. :)

Anonymous said...

Terra - You said "Also, ignore the instruction in the Diurnal to say 'Divinum auxilium...Et cum fratibus...' after the Marian antiphon - that is only said in choir."

I'll take your word for it (as I do for everything else around here!), but can I ask why? This doesn't seem to be a very priestly sort of prayer (like Dominus vobiscum...) that we should be skipping for that reason. What's the reason for not asking that the divine assistance remain with us?

Would it be...bad, if I prayed it (not being a monk)?

Terra said...

On the Divinum auxilium etc - I assume this rubric is because the response is a prayer for those of the monastic choir not present on the day - and for those outside of choir we are the absent, and all our brothers are absent (or non-existent)!

I give you the instructions based on the rubrics as best I know them - but on this one, personally I think its fine to say out of choir (you can think yourself as in solidarity with, and prayers for all other non-monks saying the Office by themselves for example) and I often do so myself.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, you've assuaged me. I just love the idea of asking for the divine assistance remaining with us, and doing so using an approved, liturgical prayer. I was wondering how I'd handle the "et cum fratribus," but I guess if I'm using the diurnal I should be feeling some solidarity with the monks and nuns already!

CountrySteve said...

According to what it says in the Diurnal, it says the Chapter from 1 Peter can be replaced with a spiritual reading; does this reading have to be in Latin? God bless!

Kate Edwards said...

Steve - Although that comment appears in the Diurnal, I can't find anything to that effect in the official rubrics, at least on a quick skim (I will go back and do a more thorough search when I have time), and I've never actually seen a monastery use an alternative text to the traditional one. But if you want to pray the Office devotionally, it is certainly possible to use an English alternative.

CountrySteve said...

Thanks for the reply, I think I shall just pray it as its written, I want to keep it liturgical. God bless!

Dan said...

This website is very helpful to me. Thanks for all your work. I am beginning by praying Prime and Compline along with the monks at Barroux. You said that they will pray Psalm 50 after the Compline, but they also add some Marian prayers. Do you know where I might find that added text to the Compline, so I can follow that also?

Kate Edwards said...

As noted above, a Marian antiphon appropriate to the season (and associated prayer) is always said as part of compline and can found in the Diurnal. Some monasteries also say the Angelus again at this time. But if they are saying anything else, I'm afraid I'm not sure what it is...