Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

by Sr Fidelis  

Keep us while we sleep, that we may watch with Christ and rest in peace. (Compline antiphon)

We’ve been looking at the various elements that make up the Divine Office of Compline.  Last week, we focused on the first half, from the Opening Sentences through the Psalmody. This week, we describe the four elements that follow the Psalmody. (The entire Office of Compline is attached so you may listen and follow along.) The second half of Compline includes:
1)  Short Lessons (in English) Readings The Short Lessons are various Scripture verses — one for each day of the week — taken from both the Old and New Testament. Monday’s is from I Thessalonians 5:9-10.For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep, we might live with him. The Response (also in English) is: Thanks be to God!
2)  Versicle and Response (in English) Readings The Versicle and Response are a response to the Short Lesson.  In responsorial chanting, the solo cantor sings the verse, then all respond with a refrain. This is an ancient form of chanting, going back to the early centuries, when only a few trained cantors led the chanting, and the rest of the congregation responded with a verse they knew by heart. The Compline Versicle is taken from Jesus’ own words to his Father as he hung on the cross: “Into your hands…I commend my spirit” — words that many people pray before they go to sleep. The Scriptural Response is: You have redeemed us, Lord, O God of truth. 

3)  Gospel Canticle (in Latin)  Psalmody The Compline Canticle is the Song of Simeon, taken from Luke 2: 29-32. God had revealed to Simeon that he would see the Messiah before he died. As Jesus was brought by his parents to the temple for the presentation of their firstborn son, Simeon recognized who Jesus was.  He took the infant in his arms and recited the words: Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel. The Canticle is introduced by an antiphon, which is repeated again after the Doxology verse.

4)  Closing Prayers (in Latin, Greek and English)  Prayers  The ending prayers for each Chant Office consist of: Kyrie eleison Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison  (Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy).  These are the only Greek words used in the Office. Pater Noster — The Lord’s Prayer is intoned, then the remainder is prayed in silence, until the closing phrase which is chanted aloud. This is an ancient tradition that comes from the early centuries of the Christian era when Rome was persecuting the church and only baptized Christians knew  the Lord’s Prayer.  By publicly reciting only the first and last lines, the persecuted Christians believed they were preserving the secrets of the Christian faith. The closing prayers continue with a final collect and a benediction, or prayer for blessing.

This entry was posted in God, Gregorian Chant, Jesus, Peace, Prayer, Scripture by Sr. Fidelis. Bookmark the permalink.

About Sr. Fidelis

I am 46 years old, and have been a Sister at the Community of Jesus for 26 years. Having grown up here, I have been singing Gregorian chant since I was 10! I was very blessed to study Gregorian chant with Dr. Mary Berry in Cambridge, England and here at home. Recently, I have been able to do some radio and tv interviews, sharing about the blessings of Gregorian chant. I love leading chant workshops, and have been able to do that in the US and abroad.

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