My experience of contemplative worship started in early life. I was raised Roman Catholic, and my father would sometimes take us to a Cistercian abbey about an hour from my hometown of Rochester, N.Y. We would visit with Father Marcellus, a family friend who was a monk there, pick up loaves of “Monk’s Bread,” bread-baking being their trade, and attend Vespers in the chapel. I loved the ordered and quiet life there, and the practice of the Daily Office fascinated me even as a young child.
I first encountered Compline, the final service of the Daily Office, in my last year of college. The Episcopal church that sat just a stone’s throw from my school had a Compline service every Sunday at 9:00 p.m. That fall, the director invited me to sing. To say I became devoted to that practice would be an understatement. It was my life-line during a very difficult year. In my own world, it was one of challenges, disappointments, and difficult decisions. In the wider world, it was the year that saw the September 11 terror attacks and our country begin the first of two wars.
One of the collects for Compline reads: Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. That sense of constancy and the ritual of singing Compline each week brought comfort amidst the shifting sands that I felt all around me.
In sung Compline, the choir plays a central role, singing nearly all of the service. That does not mean that the congregation’s role is passive. Compline invites the congregation into an active, inward participation. It invites stillness and contemplation, prayer and an openness to the Divine. In removing the expectation of outward, active participation, Compline has become popular with young people, those not familiar with the Church or its traditions, and even among those who struggle with organized religion or their faith. They come seeking something, without necessarily knowing what it is they are hoping to find.
We will offer Compline at 7:00 p.m. on the first Sunday of the month, beginning October 6. I hope that you will plan to make this new service part of your worship life at St. Peter’s.
Elizabeth Lenti, Director of Music and Organist