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Before the ending of the day

17 April 2014

Douglas Dales finds riches in a testimony to late-night liturgy


At the cross: the figures in this roof boss in Exeter Cathedral are deeply undercut, creating strong areas of shadow. This is one of Mike Ware's photos for the learned but highly accessible guide Of Sirens and Centaurs: Medieval sculpture at Exeter Cathedral by Alex Woodcock, a stonemason there (Impress Books, with support from the cathedral's Friends, £9.99 (£9); 978-1-907605-43-7). Another photo, page 34

At the cross: the figures in this roof boss in Exeter Cathedral are deeply undercut, creating strong areas of shadow. This is one of Mike Ware's pho...

Prayer as Night Falls: Experiencing compline
Kenneth V. Peterson
Paraclete Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70 (Use code CT471 )

THIS is an excellent book in so many ways. It is a careful testimony to many years of fruitful experience singing compline in St Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle, and it contains a rich treasury of thought, experience, and reflection. It is also beautifully printed and set out, and it will be valued as a resource by many people.

The publishers, the Paraclete Press, are part of the Community of Jesus, which is described as "an ecumenical monastic community in the Benedictine tradition . . . whose aim is a full expression of Christian belief and practice, from Catholic to Evangelical, from Protestant to Orthodox." As such, this book is a fascinating window into the distinctive way in which liturgical worship has developed in the United States over the past 40 years or so.

The writer sets out to achieve a number of goals. He examines the historical roots of compline in the Benedictine monastic tradition, with its roots in the worship of the Early Church. His section on the Jewish antecedents of Christian practice of night prayer is especially valuable and interesting. He is also a musician and part of a well-established cathedral choir. His range of practical experience is evident and valuable, and he is keen to commend the musical dimension of the celebration of this office.

He intersperses his discussion with moving reminiscences from his own Christian experience, moments when aspects of this lovely service took on a new meaning, and guided him in his prayer and understanding.

There is a notable passage on pages 58-59 in which he describes sitting with his dying mother as her only child. The framework of compline enabled him to address her final earthly needs in a way that would certainly be highly relevant to anyone else in such a situation.

The book concludes with a very extensive and ecumenical bibliography, and some guidance about suitable musical resources as well. What is striking about this book is the way in which the author, and those with whom he has so fruitfully collaborated at Seattle Cathedral, have imbibed rich elements of prayer and worship from across the full spectrum of the Church's tradition, demonstrating the unique significance of compline as an epitome of the whole tapestry of Christian experience.

The Revd Douglas Dales is a parish priest in the Oxford diocese.

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