The office of compline, derived from the Latin word for completion (completorium) is a service of quietness and reflection to end the day. Under the direction of the college’s Chapel Organist, Dr. Mark McDonald, and the College Chaplain Rev. Jen Bourque, a weekly compline service was initiated in Fall 2016, taking place every Sunday evening at 8pm in St. Luke’s Chapel. Here are some of their thoughts on the initiative.
Why did you feel compline specifically would be a good initiative to undertake in the college chapel on a regular basis?
The Rev. Jen Bourque: Mark proposed the idea of offering compline as a musically-driven, sung service. Karen and the rest of the staff were immediately enthusiastic. I loved the idea of reaching out to other members of the McGill community who might not otherwise have points of contact with Dio, the church, singing or contemplation, and I loved the idea of an experimental, optional service for our students, staff and associates–one that we could take on as a trial or test and see what happened. I also loved the idea of simple, quiet, sung prayer at the end of the day–who know who might be attracted by it!
Dr. Mark McDonald: I have always been inspired by the college’s willingness to experiment with different forms of worship, liturgy, and education. I saw the simple, contemplative compline liturgy, which can be almost entirely sung from beginning to end, as a perfect introduction for our seminarians to broaden their musical and liturgical experiences. At the same time, I envisioned our service as a means of welcoming the broader community into our chapel, be it students, musicians, or those curious about learning a unique tradition.
Who are you hoping to attract with this service?
Mark: Our compline services have attracted a diverse group of people. Apart from the students, faculty and associates of our Dio community are people of a variety of backgrounds–we’ve welcomed students from McGill, local musicians, college alumni, and visiting parishioners and priests from our diocese, to name a few. Launching our service live over Facebook has brought a new group into our midst–more often than not, we have more people joining us online then we do in the chapel. Some of our regular attendees even started by watching us online before coming to sing with us for the first time.
Jen: We hoped to attract McGill students, people who might want to learn to sing, or who could sing. We advertized mostly on social media, but also on campus, through the McGill Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, and in local churches.
We took the Compline Choir “on the road” during Nuit Blanche, and joined with Anna Lewin-Brain and other members of Christ Church Cathedral to lead compline for about 300 visitors to the cathedral at about midnight, introducing a broad Montreal public to sung prayers at the end of the day.
In the chapel, at the Cathedral and on Facebook, we’ve been able to engage with a sort of collision and dialogue between the ancient practices and the contemporary world. We’re singing 10th century hymns, but on Facebook–we’re able to use the ancient, timeworn practices of our tradition for busy contemporary people to carve out space for prayer and stillness.
How has this service impacted the MDTC student body?
Mark: I’ve seen a huge growth in the seminarians over this past year as they have become more comfortable (and more capable!) of singing and reading music. Our other worship services have also benefited from their new-found musical inspiration. The students participate more actively in the musical forms of worship in our weekly services and they have also helped to lead special efforts like a sung 1549 liturgy for All Saints and the “O” Antiphons at our Advent Carol Service. The intimacy of the compline services has also brought us closer together as a community; we not only sing and pray together–we also rehearse music, plan our services, set up the chapel, debate important liturgical questions, and celebrate each other’s accomplishments.
Jen: Our students go to chapel and church a lot. This service is, unlike most, totally optional. And yet, many of our students come, and regularly. They are learning to sing (in large part thanks to Mark’s patient and skilled direction!). They are experimenting with an ancient liturgy of the church, adding and subtracting pieces, and changing the space around. They are, largely, behind the broadcast, and they did the research on liturgical copyright. They are inviting friends, both in person and online. And they–and I–are praying, quietly, together, with our hearts and voices and souls, and meeting God again and a new in the St. Luke’s chapel.
I think that this willingness to experiment–especially Mark’s willingness to bring of his talents and interests and expertise, and to work collaboratively with others in the community–has spilled over into the rest of our community life. We sing more, and we sing better. But we are also keen to try new things in many different parts of our common life, and there is a good energy in the college.
Has anything surprised you during this first year of compline? What have you learned?
Mark: When I first imagined how these services might go, I expected that I would be spending my Sunday evenings alone in the chapel perhaps with an occasional visit from a curious seminarian or sympathetic friend. I’m inspired by the way our community has embraced this idea and run with it. I’m particularly moved by the ownership that our community members have for the service; contributing their time and ideas to bring compline to a wider audience and to create an intimate, welcoming atmosphere in the chapel and in our online community.
Jen: I’ve been surprised at how good compline has been for my soul, and, I think, others’ as well! I’ve been amazed at the combinations of people we get joining us, both in person and online, and the way that this allows people to engage with sacred music and contemplative prayer in a way that isn’t often offered locally. I joke that we are the “most popular online compline service in Montreal”–we certainly are, but we get viewers and followers from much further afield.
Final thoughts about the compline service that you would like readers to know?
Mark: I think the most important thing to know is not to be shy about joining us. Whether it be online or in the chapel, all are welcome–even if you’ve never sung before! Check us out on Facebook, or come to one of our open rehearsals at 7:30pm before each service.
Jen: Come join us, and try it out! It’s a no-pressure way to try on a time-tested way to pray and reflect. We welcome newcomers, the religiously-curious, committed Christians, great singers, those who can’t carry a tune to save their lives, everyone. See you in September!