I had never attended a compline service before, and I’d heard Gregorian chant only in recordings, so I didn’t know what to expect when I entered Seattle’s St. Mark’s Cathedral. As the last service, compline marks the end of the working day in the canonical hours tradition.
The number of attendees, from those in their teens and all the way into old age, surprised me. Some, like me, sat in the pews, and others at benches lining the side walls. But as many people settled down with blankets, pillows, and mats to lie on the floor. Besides those physically present, many thousands attended the compline service through radio and other media. Since church prayer services are often sparsely attended, I had to wonder what drew this crowd. I was soon to find out.
Just being inside the historic building was worth the visit. The ceiling reposed a long way above the towering arched windows, so high it seemed to reach toward heaven. A grand old pipe organ swept upward from its second-floor loft. The people lying down had an advantage, I decided while rubbing the crick in my neck.
The choir entered, single-file, and after taking their places at the back of the sanctuary, began to sing. As mentioned, I’ve heard Gregorian chant in a recording, but that’s like saying you’ve read about falling in love. Nothing beats the reality. Peace settled on the faces around me, and I marveled yet again at the ease with which music pierces the heart.
I was at once in a gathering and gloriously alone with my Creator. He and I wandered the pathways of my soul; through repentance into grace, suplication into mercy, sorrow into joy. And then we moved beyond me and to a world badly in need of prayer. Lord have mercy. I’m still absorbing the experience, but in many ways it will remain indescribable.
Some observe the Great Silence following a compline service, not speaking until the next morning. I can see how such a practice might enhance the meditative quality of the service. I came away both more relaxed than I have been in a long time. Would observing a nightly quiet time just before bed eliminate the stress-related insomnia I sometimes suffer?
What could I do to bring the sweet serenity I felt to others? Next month I’ll introduce relaxation videos and will try to post them once a month. The first will take us to the Grand Canyon through the images I took during a road trip, accompanied by music from one of my favorite musicians.
Meanwhile, I’d appreciate hearing about your own experiences with a special way music or prayer touched you. Have you ever heard Gregorian chant in person?
Compline has been sung every Sunday night in St. Mark’s Cathedral since 1956. The service is brief considering its impact; just half an hour, starting at 9:30 p.m. Pacific Time. KING FM 98.1 broadcasts the service live. If you’d like to learn more about compline service at St. Mark’s (and also glimpse the beautiful cathedral), watch the video, below.
©2014 by Janalyn Voigt