Saturday, January 20, 2018

Learn the Office 2.3: Versicles - Compline step-by-step 3

Coronation of the Virgin, Paris, France  (?), Tempera and gold leaf on parchment, France, probably Paris
Coronation of the Virgin, The Met
ca. 1455–60

Continuing this step-by-step progress through Compline (Pt 3), today a little about versicles.  This post also covers their use in the other hours.


Versicles are short verses with a response.

At Compline a sign of the cross is made at the ‘Adjutorium nostrum’ verse, and over the heart with the thumb at the ‘Converte nos Deus’.

Alleluias are added to the versicles (where marked) in Eastertide.

More elaborate chant tones are used for Lauds and Vespers, and for feasts at those hours.

What is a versicle?

The versicle is a short statement and response.

In the Diurnal they are usually just marked V: and R:

All of the hours contain versicles, and in the main they are very straightforward to say.

Still, there are a few rubrics that go with them in particular hours, such as Compline, and variants in the chants used them on feasts that are worth noting.

Where the versicles are placed

At Prime to None and Compline, there are versicles after the short reading and/or chapter verse, acting as the equivalent of a responsory to it. Versicles also have other positions and functions in the hours though.


The first versicle of Compline is said immediately after the short reading:

V. Adjutórium nostrum in nómine Dómini. +
R. Qui fecit cælum et terram.
V. Our help is in the name of the Lord, +
R. Who made heaven and earth.

A second closes off the first section of the hour, 'responding' perhaps to our act of contrition:

V. Convérte nos Deus,+ salutáris noster.
R. Et avérte iram tuam a nobis.
V. Turn us then, O God,+ our saviour: 
R. And let thy anger cease from us.

And there is another one after the chapter verse that comes in the middle section of Compline:

V. Custódi nos, Dómine, ut pupíllam óculi.
R. Sub umbra alárum tuárum prótege nos.
V. Keep us, Lord, as the apple of thine eye.
R. Protect us under the shadow of thy wings.

Prime to None

At both Prime and Compline (aside from those linked to the Marian antiphon), the versicles are the same each day.

At Terce, Sext and None, however, they vary with seasons and feasts, in order to match the chapter verses they follow.

Matins, Lauds and Vespers

At Matins the versicles come immediately after the psalms are said in each Nocturn, while at Lauds and Vespers they come after the hymn and before the New Testament Canticles, and can vary with the day of the week as well as the season or feast.

Versicles are also used at various other points through the Office.

Rubrics for the versicles

When the Office is said in common or in choir, the person leading the Office chants the verse (labelled V.), everyone then joins the response (R.).

In private recitation, just say both the verse and response.

Normally there are no particular gestures or postures associated with versicles.  

The key exception is at Compline, where a sign of the cross is made at the 'Adjutorium nostrum', and with the thumb over the heart at the 'Converte nos Deus'.


The other point worth being aware of is that during Eastertide, alleluias are added to the versicles in the main part of the hour.

If you look at page 263 in the Diurnal (AM 172), for example, you will see  it says (T.P. Alleluia or, in the English version, P. T...).  This means add an Alleluia to the verse (and response) during Paschaltide (Tempus Paschali, ie Easter).

Chant tones for versicles

The Antiphonale Monasticum provides four alternate tones for the versicles (AM 1232-3):

  • a 'simplex tone' (Tonus simplex) for use at Prime to None and Compline, as well as when making a commemoration at Lauds;
  • a common tone (tonus communis) for Lauds and Vespers on normal days;
  • a solemn tone (tonus solemnis), for use on major feasts and Lauds and Vespers; and 
  • a tone for use in the Office of the Dead and during the Triduum (AM 1233).

SUMMARY: Rubrics for the first section of Compline

The versicle 'Converte nos' marks the end of the first section of Compline, and the table below summarises the rubrics for Compline up to this point.

Opening section of Compline

Office component
Page number
Key words
Key points to note
Reading - Short lesson with blessing

MD 256-7
AM 167

[video 1.07]
Jube Domne..
Noctem quietam…
Alternative readings can be used
Stand; in monastery, reader kneels for the blessing
MD 257

[video 1.56]

Adjutorium nostrum…
Make sign of cross
Examination of Conscience or Pater Noster

Confession, absolution
MD 257

MD 258-9 (Unless in a monastery or with a priest leading)

[video 2.17]

Confiteor Deo omnipotenti…

Misereatur nostri…


The Diurnal provides two versions of this section – use the second in private recitation.

Note addition of St Benedict to the Confiteor.

Bow (profound)

Strike breast x3 at mea culpa.

At absolution (Indulgentium), make sign of the cross

MD 259

[video 3.49]
Converte nos Deus…
Sign of cross with thumb over heart

Yu can find the next part in this series, on the opening prayers of the Office (and opening of the middle section of Compline), here.

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