Prayer Forms to Nourish Men. Part One: Compline/Night Prayer

We must know that God regards our purity of heart and tears of compunction, not our many words. Prayer should therefore be short and pure, unless perhaps it is prolonged under the inspiration of divine grace. In community, however, prayer should always be brief; and when the superior gives the signal, all should rise together.

St Benedict of Nursia, The Rule 20:3-5.

(The following is Part I of Prayer Forms to Nourish Men, a workshop I presented at the Center for Spiritual Development, Orange, CA, sponsored by the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Orange)

Welcome to Lord, Teach Us to Pray: Prayer Practices to Nourish Men.

I am grateful this morning for the coordinating help of Sister Karin Nuernberg CSJ, Sonya Longbotham, and Steve Bruce.  We are presenting from the Center for Spiritual Development, Orange California.

I begin with this question to myself: why in the world was I asked to be the presenter on this topic? We are near the Mother House of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange. The psychic-spiritual energy of this religious community, their faithful daily prayers, surely has the collective ability to power the entire city of Orange, California. This Center for Spiritual Development through the years has hosted workshops with some of the most gifted, inspiring, and prayerful people in the Church. Why in the world was I asked to present Prayer Practices to Nourish Men?

I believe I have an answer. As I was asked to work up the presentation this morning many months ago, I believe the Holy Spirit sparked the Center to prod me into this project, because I need to be more attentive to my prayer friendship with God. My daily prayer for the past several weeks has been: Dear Lord, please let me know what your desires are for our workshop on prayer this morning.

I have been a parish priest for fifty years, but this is no qualification for faithful prayer. It has been a distracted, multitasking career in which I have not been faithful to the haunting pull of God’s desire for communion with me.

After two different bouts of cancer and several decades of care for our disabled son Erik, the patient, persistent caresses of the Spirit have worn down my resistant distractions, turning my face toward God in Prayer.

Father Ron Rolheiser, in his book Holy Longing, describes the challenging situation you and I face as we consider prayer practices that nourish men.

The Holy Longing.

“Inside of us, it would seem, something is at odds with the very rhythm of things and we are forever restless, dissatisfied, frustrated and aching. We are so overcharged with desire that it is hard to come to simple rest.”

“We are driven persons, forever obsessed, congenitally dis-eased, living lives of quiet desperation, only occasionally experiencing peace. Desire is the straw that stirs the drink.”

“Spirituality is about what we do with that desire. What we do with our longings. Augustine said: ‘You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.’ Spirituality is about what we do with our unrest.”

Our innate Holy Longing is for experiences of communion and connection with the Lord Jesus.

Are these words speaking to you this morning? I believe you and I are here together this morning because we do recognize our deepest longing is to be in communion with God in our Lord Jesus Christ.

My desire for you this morning is that you will find some practical assistance for your prayer life to nurture your Holy Longing for the Lord.

What forms of prayer might be especially suited for men? Here is an approach suggested by Fr. Ron Rolheiser OMI that we will take this morning to answer this question:

Prayer has the power to transform our inner spirit and how we experience God in the movement of everyday life. Sustaining a daily life of prayer that does not demand of us energy we cannot muster, includes familiar and repetitious ritual that is clearly defined and time limited.

With this in mind, we will learn about and experience three forms of structured prayer in order to foster a discipline of daily prayer:

  • The Daily Office/Breviary: as a way of praying throughout the day and reflecting upon the word of God.” 
  • The Examen of Consciousness: a daily practice of gratitude and discernment of God’s movement in our lives
  • Contemplative prayer: practicing the presence of God.

Analogy

I think it was Henri Nouwen who said that the essential thing about prayer is you must show up for prayer regularly. Sometimes my heart is deeply moved by a sense of God’s embrace; much of the time I am bored, distracted, looking at the clock. But I stay with my scheduled prayer, mostly. Here is an analogy that has helped me:

When my 97-year-old father was alive, he lived in a board and care home a few blocks from our own home in Laguna Niguel, CA. Of his three children, I was the only one who lived close. I faithfully visited dad every day around noon.  I helped him with his lunch. We talked about the news and the golf games. He could precisely remember PGA golf scores from the day before. We went back to his room and the trivial banter continued, usually nothing too serious. Occasionally, he told me a story about his work adventures in South America. I glanced at the clock to see when I had to leave. These daily visits continued over months and several years. I had the privilege of knowing my father more deeply, and he got to know me more deeply. At a deep level of our relationship, the actual connection between us took place below the surface of our conversation. We came to know each other through simple presence.

Prayer is like that: praying faithfully every day, through weeks, months, years, bored, looking at the clock. But under the surface between you and me and God, a deeper bond is growing.

Praying the Liturgy of Hours

As we live through this Covid-19 pandemic, most of us are at home, in our monastic cell, if you will, minimizing social contact. How can Christian monks help us through these days of isolation to grow our life with God? I have found that a detailed schedule for the day has given me a sense of order, sanity, and control as I try to avoid latching on to this or that distraction, junk food or entertainment that may float by. Finding a contemplative practice is part of this order. Some days I pray the Examen, or contemplative prayer, or the liturgy of the hours.

One of the gifts from monastic culture to us are the Liturgy of the Hours, the Breviary, the Daily Office, the Lutheran Book of Prayers.

These canonical hours were influenced by the Jewish schedule of daily prayers. Early Christians adapted this practice, and it moved into the deserts of Syria and Egypt, where the desert fathers and mothers created the first Christian monastic communities.

Monasticism flourished, but discipline broke down and conflict was common. Saint Benedict of Nursia (AD480-550) lived in those turbulent times, creating in 516 the Rule. The Rule became a guidebook for sustaining religious community, still used 1500 years later.

The Rule gives guidance to how to live a Christocentric life on earth and how to administer a monastery efficiently. Benedict’s golden rule was Ora et Labora, pray and work. A structured schedule of prayer for eight hours, sleep for eight hours and manual work or sacred reading for eight hours.

Benedict gives us direction, as we ponder what prayer forms are best suited for us. In his plan for scheduled prayer, men do not have to come up with their own words to pray. The dominant use of psalms brings men in touch with the feelings and emotions percolating within as they pray. The prayer services can be said within ten to fifteen minutes.

Chapters 8-19 of the Rule regulate the Divine Office with eight canonical prayer hours. Here is the original schedule proposed by Benedict.

This Horarium began at Midnight with Matins.

Lauds at 3am (before wax candles of the 14th century, the monks had to memorize the service to pray in the dark).

Prime at 6am

Terce at 9am

Sext at noon

None at 3pm

Vespers at 6pm

Night Prayer, Compline at 9 pm

Several variations of the schedule have developed over time. After Vatican II, a new arrangement of the Liturgy of the Hours was updated.

The Anglican Church radically simplified Benedict’s prayer schedule in their Book of Common Prayer, combining the first three services into Matins/Morning Prayer and the latter two into Vespers/Evening Prayer.

However, Anglican religious communities revived the original Horarium of Benedict.

I remember forty years of retreats at the Anglican/Episcopal monastery of Mount Calvary of the Order of the Holy Cross, in an old Spanish style hacienda, in the mountains above Montecito, California with a view up and down the California coast.

A brass bell rings outside at 5:45 a.m. in the cold darkness of December. I jolt up from the bed in my cell, pull on a thick hooded sweatshirt and shuffle down the hall over the creaky wooden floor toward the chapel. Dawn is breaking in the distance as I gaze through the huge chapel window, observing the twinkling street lights of Ventura. I find a seat in a long pew on one side of the altar, behind the monks, who seem to have their own personal seats.

We stand as the Prior enters and Prime begins. We sit for the chanting of several long psalms. The words are printed in a special breviary with pointed marks where the tone changes and there is a dot at the end of the first half of each sentence. In this way one side of the chapel chanted the first part of the sentence, the other side responded antiphonally. Praying these long psalms together, I took a deep breath to chant my part and found that everyone on my side eventually breathed in and out together. There was a hypnotic rhythm to the chanting and the breathing. These monks have been chanting and praying the Liturgy of the Hours for decades. Each of the eight prayer services spread out over the day takes only 10-15 minutes.

I made several retreats to Mount Calvary Monastery during low points of Erik’s health. I felt numb and my muscles ached all the time with the internalized stress. I had great difficulty reading or chanting the prayer services. But the communal voice of the monks lifted me up within their own praying and chanting.

Roman Catholic priests and deacons pray all the hours of the Breviary. The laity are encouraged to pray Lauds (Morning Prayer) and vespers (Evening Prayer). The Anglican and Episcopal Book of Common Prayer and the Lutheran Book of Prayer also have these daily liturgical prayers, all coming out of the monastic tradition.

When I first tried to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, this is what I encountered: a lot of confusion colored ribbons to mark readings and prayers that change every day.

Ron Rolheiser shares this helpful understanding:

“We are no longer just a private individual praying: we are the voice, body and soul of the earth itself, continuing the high priesthood of Christ, offering prayers and entreaties, aloud and in silent tears, to go do for the sake of the World.”

We can imagine the earth slowly spinning on its axis, turning from day into night into day into night. If someone in Denver, Colorado prays the Vespers tonight at 9pm, an hour later the ball passes to you: the world turns on these continuous prayers of the people of God.

I thought about a selection of the Liturgy of the Hours for today, and Morning Prayer would fit this hour, but where I find solace and connection with God every day is in Compline, which I often pray at night.

Imagine another day of isolation, your concerns about your friends, family, maybe work, finances, health, the future, and we begin Compline as our last activity before we go to bed:

If you have trouble quieting your mind before sleep, even after a disturbing or troubling day, this is the prayer setting for you. Some psalms appointed sound like they are coming from a dark place, others sing out joyfully in thanksgiving. As you get into the habit of praying them, you will find that they become your own voice to God. Often there is mention of plague, disease, serious illness, calamity, troubles. The psalms reflect the variety of human moods and emotions. They help you get in touch right now with what is moving within your own heart as you pray with God. The prayers invoke God’s embrace of benevolent, protective love, enshrouding you and all those you love as you sleep into the night.

It is complicated to find your way through all those ribbons. Thank God for my iPhone, as I found 2 helpful apps: I Breviary and Universalis. When I want to pray one of the hours, like Compline, I click it and the whole service appears with the psalms and lessons for the day. There is even an extra embellishment that allows a voice to lead you in the prayers. Another setting chants the entire liturgy of Compline in Latin.

This sounds inviting, but I find it hard to bring up the energy to do this every day. You do not have to pray all the hours. You can bundle a few together to try them out, as you also consider the Examen of Conscience and Contemplative Prayer that we will explore together soon.

At lunch time, sitting outside in a garden, maybe you want to click afternoon prayer. If you pray Compline as I do every night at 10pm and you fall asleep in the middle of prayer, you are OK resting in God. The choices can change. The important thing is to show up for prayer friendship with God.

If you want to try the Liturgy of the Hours, I recommend the IBreviary app. Find a time of day that works for you. If you want to use the physical breviary, please ask someone to help you. There are lots of online resources to guide you, but I recommend practicing the prayers and it will grow on you.

Remember, you are not praying alone. You are joining the voice of the Church, which is praying around the world, 24/7, constantly.

Benedictine sister Joan Chittister shares: “We go to prayer to be transfigured ourselves, to come to see the world as God sees the world, to practice the presence of God, to put on a heart of justice, of love and of compassion for others.”

Compline/Night Prayer

Prayer Experience for the Liturgy of the Hours

(Some translations below were taken from universalis.com)

Compline/Night Prayer

O God, come to our aid.

  O Lord make haste to help us.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son

  and to the Holy Spirit,

as it was in the beginning,

  is now, and ever shall be,

  world without end.

Amen. Alleluia.

Examination of Conscience

I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do; and I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord, our God.

May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.

Hymn

Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th’encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

St. John Henry Newman

Psalm 142 (143)
A prayer in time of trouble

Do not hide your face from me, for in you have I put my trust.

Lord, listen to my prayer:

  in your faithfulness turn your ear to my pleading;

  in your justice, hear me.

Do not judge your servant:

  nothing that lives can justify itself before you.

The enemy has hounded my spirit,

  he has crushed my life to the ground,

  he has shut me in darkness, like the dead of long ago.

So my spirit trembles within me,

  my heart turns to stone.

I remind myself of the days of old,

  I reflect on all your works,

  I meditate once more on the work of your hands.

I stretch out my arms to you,

  I stretch out my soul, like a land without water.

Come quickly and hear me, O Lord,

  for my spirit is weakening.

Do not hide your face from me,

  do not let me be like the dead,

  who go down to the underworld.

Show me your mercy at daybreak,

  because of my trust in you.

Tell me the way I should follow,

  for I lift up my soul towards you.

Rescue me from my enemies:

  Lord, I flee to you for refuge.

Teach me to do your will,

  for you are my God.

Your good spirit will lead me to the land of justice;

  for your name’s sake, Lord, you will give me life.

In your righteousness you will lead my soul

  away from all tribulation.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son

  and to the Holy Spirit,

as it was in the beginning,

  is now, and ever shall be,

  world without end.

Amen.

Do not hide your face from me, for in you have I put my trust.

Short Reading – 1 Peter 5:8-9

Be calm but vigilant, because your enemy the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion, looking for someone to eat. Stand up to him, strong in faith.

Short Responsory

Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.

– Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.

You have redeemed us, Lord God of truth.

– Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

– Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.

Canticle – Nunc Dimittis

Save us, Lord, while we are awake; protect us while we sleep; that we may keep watch with Christ and rest with him in peace.

Now, Master, you let your servant go in peace.

  You have fulfilled your promise.

My own eyes have seen your salvation,

  which you have prepared in the sight of all peoples.

A light to bring the Gentiles from darkness;

  the glory of your people Israel.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son

  and to the Holy Spirit,

as it was in the beginning,

  is now, and ever shall be,

  world without end.

Amen.

Save us, Lord, while we are awake; protect us while we sleep; that we may keep watch with Christ and rest with him in peace.

Let us pray

In your mercy, Lord,

  dispel the darkness of this night.

Let your household so sleep in peace

  that at the dawn of a new day

  they may, with joy, waken in your name.

Through Christ our Lord,

Amen.


The Lord grant us a quiet night and a perfect end.

  Amen.

Marian Anthem

Loving mother of the Redeemer,

gate of heaven, star of the sea,

assist your people who have fallen yet strive to rise again.

To the wonderment of nature you bore your Creator,

yet remained a virgin after as before.

You who received Gabriel’s joyful greeting,

have pity on us poor sinners.

I am wondering if our experience of Compline/Night Prayer changes as we age? I am 75 years old. As I pray Compline at night before I go to sleep, I can understand how my need to rest draws me into the mystery of the Lord’s death and my own death. I am completing my daily dying to self in order to rise with Christ.

The hymns that are used in Compline ask for God’s gift of rest and protection through the night. The psalms evoke trust in God. The response to the short reading is “into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit:” words I may say again when I am close to death.

The highpoint of Compline is the Nunc Dimitis, with the antiphon: Protect us Lord as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace.

The tradition of a Marian hymn at the end of Compline, such as the Salve Regina, connects with a tradition of the Eastern Church, the Dormition of Mary, her falling asleep in death.

Compline is the prayer of our dormition, of our falling asleep in Christ at the end of this day and at the end of our life. At Compline we grateful acknowledge Christ to be our constant companion.

Reflection:

What are you asking from God today?

What did you find within this first presentation that gives you hope for a more intentional prayer schedule?

Resources:

Universalis iPhone app and website:

https://universalis.com/

Laudate app

I Breviary iPhone app and website:

https://www.ibreviary.org/en/

Episcopal/Anglican apps for Daily Office

The Lutheran Book of Prayers

Daily Office app

Daily Prayer app

Missionstclare.com

The Rule of Saint Benedict: Latin and English, Translated by Luke Dysinger OSB

A Layman’s Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours: How the Prayers of the Church Can Change Your Life, Fr. Timothy Gallagher OMV

Prayer, Fr. Ron Rolheiser OMI

The Holy Longing, Fr. Ron Rolheiser OMI

AnglicansOnline.org

Rules for Prayer, William O. Paulsell

About fatherbrad1971

Professor of Philosophy and World Religions at Saddleback Community College, Mission Viejo, CA. Episcopal priest since 1971 in Diocese of Los Angeles (retired). Owner of Desert Spirit Press, publishers of books on desert spirituality. Author, "The Spirit in the Desert: PIlgrimages to Sacred Sites in the Owens Valley." and "Encounters with the World's Religions: the Numinous on Highway 395". Memberships: Nevada Archaeological Association, Western Writers of America, California Cattlemen's Association, American Association of University Professors, Outdoor Writers of California, American Academy of Religion, Western Folklore Association.
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3 Responses to Prayer Forms to Nourish Men. Part One: Compline/Night Prayer

  1. Karen Goran says:

    Thank you for sending this. I was so curious about what you might say to encourage others to pray. Your offerings look helpful,down to earth and reasonable. I appreciate being kept in you writing loop. I hope you and your family are well. Karen Goran

  2. pamsjsd says:

    Thank you, Fr. Brad,    We do have a Lutheran Book of Prayer. I’m going to give it a good look and consideration. Peace,P

  3. Mark Ross says:

    Bravo Brad! Thank you!

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