When we were young, many of us were taught to say a short prayer before bedtime: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” It was simple yet reassuring and it made us recognize our own mortality even as children. But what does it do for us, really? My Pope provides a few insights.
Also Read: Pope Francis’ Prayer of the Five Fingers
When did the practice of saying prayers before bedtime begin?
It’s quite difficult to pinpoint the exact period when people started praying before they retired for the day. Some say it’s an offshoot of an early church practice called compline, defined as the “the final church service of the day in the Christian tradition of canonical hours.” In monasteries, there is usually complete silence following the rite, broken only the next morning. Some scholars say compline was started by St. Benedict in the sixth century, others say it was established earlier, by St. Basil sometime in the fourth century. There are texts also from the era of St. Cyprian (c. 200-258) and Clement of Alexandria (c. 150- 215), describing a “private custom of saying a prayer before retiring to rest”—and that sounds like bedtime prayers to us.
What’s the significance of saying a prayer at night?
As the sound of compline might suggest, it has the same root as the word complete, as in the completion of the day. According to the 1974 Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours, a portion of the compline is observed for an optional examination of the conscience. When it is quiet in the evening, with no distractions around, it is the ideal time to reflect upon the day, give thanks for all the blessings and even trials that came our way, and humble ourselves by asking for the Lord’s guidance and protection in the coming days. Now, doesn’t that sound like the perfect way to cap off the day?
As adults, isn’t saying a rhyme as a prayer childish?
True, but it’s entirely logical that we were taught a simple, easily memorized prayer as children to get us into the lifelong habit of praying at night and making our peace with our Lord every day. As St. Francis Xavier wrote, “At night, before you go to sleep, you must examine your conscience, enquiring into the thoughts, words, and deeds of the whole day, and also whether you have left out anything of what you ought to have done.” There’s nothing childish about that!
Still curious about why bedtime prayers are good you? Read the full article in the September 2018 issue of My Pope Philippines.