Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (ELH)

Notes on ELH

ELH home page
Informal Introduction
Notes: (topics found on this page)
1. The Cover Design
2. The Church Year Calendar (p.5)
3. The Augsburg Confession, (p. 7)
4. The Creeds (older form), p. 28
5. The Athanasian Creed, p. 29
6. The Small Catechism, p. 31
7. The Prayers for Worship, p.40
9. Services for the HOURS of the Day
10. Private Confession and Absolution, p. 129
11. Corporate Confession, p. 130, ff.
12. Holy Baptism, p. 133 ff.
13. The Litany and Litany Collects, p. 137
14. The Introits from the historic calendar are on p.142 ff.
15. The Prayers on pp. 167-172
16. The Psalms and Canticles (p.173 ff.)
17. The Lectionaries, p. 199 ff.
18. The Glossary on p. 204
Rite Three -- an introduction
Report to the ELS Convention
Authors and Sources
Composers and Sources
Psalm Paraphrases (incomplete listing)
Translated Hymns
Scripture Quotations, Prayers, and Poems
First Lines of Hymns

1. The Cover Design

At the center of the logo is the Cross, a reminder that the source and focus of our worship is Christ Jesus the Crucified. The Latin cross buds forth at the end of each of its arms as a symbol that the Cross, the Tree of Life, will bring life to the four corners of the world. Behind the cross we see the lyre, the symbol of praise and worship. We are reminded of David, the sweet singer of Israel, and all the judges, prophets and priests who proclaimed the Word of God in their services of worship. The lyre also reminds us of the great service of liturgical music that has been the mark of the Christian Church throughout the ages. The ultimate background in the design is a diamond shape. This shape is more than a pleasing geometric. It is an example of musical notation called "hobnail". This diamond shaped notation was used in the sixteenth century, and it reminds us of the great reawakening of Gospel proclamation brought about by the Lutheran Reformation. It also reminds us of the work of Luther, the renewer of congregational song, and the glorious traditions of evangelical music making that culminated in the work of J. S. Bach.

2. The Church Year Calendar (p.5)

The calendar of the ELH is based on a combination of the calendars of LHry and TLH. We have attempted to include references to the new revised lectionaries that are used in many Lutheran congregations. The result is a fairly complicated calendar, but one that is rich in suggestions for liturgical observance. The minor festivals have been incorporated into the approximate season of their observance in the hope that individuals and congregations will enjoy a richer remembrance of the saints of the ages. Suggestions have been made for the observance of certain festivals on a Sunday close to them; notably the Incarnation celebrations of Presentation, Annunciation and Visitation.

The Propers for the Sundays and Festivals are provided in the Lectionary Tables (p. 199 ff.), the Collects for the Church Year (p.147 ff.), and the Introits and Graduals (p.142 ff).

3. The Augsburg Confession, (p. 7)

The AC is included as a continuation of that tradition espoused by the hymnals of Norway, Denmark and Germany. It is no stranger to congregations of the ELS, as it was included in the LHry. It is not a liturgical document, but it is a document that is an important part of this book of teaching and faith. The way of worship is the way of faith... A hymnal is not just a utilitarian book to help us through the service on Sunday morning. It is a book of faith for use throughout the week. The confession reminds us of this, and it reminds us of what our congregations practice, preach and teach.

The text is based upon that prepared by a joint committee of the General Council, the General Synod, the United Synod of the South,and the Joint Synod of Ohio in the 19th century. This is the text that was included in the LHry. It was "updated" and notes were added by Pr. Alex Ring and the Doctrine Committee of the ELS.

"The confessions of our Church which are here printed are recommended for earnest and prayerful study by every true member of our Church that we may truly know the faith once delivered to the saints and also know whereof we speak." ...from the Preface to the Symbols, Lutheran Hymnary.

4. The Creeds (older form), p. 28

The creed texts were drawn from TLH and were included as an aid to those who may choose to use them in place of the ELH forms of the creeds prepared by the ELS Doctrine Committee which appear in the services and the catechism.

5. The Athanasian Creed, p. 29

The text is based upon the English texts of TLH and LHry, with certain updatings. The word "catholic" has been retained, as it reflects the original text, and as it points to the universal nature of the true Christian confession. The creed has been pointed to be sung, as it most likely was throughout the years of its use. It may be sung or read on Trinity Sunday, but it is appropriate at other times as well. It might prove to be an interesting office if the verses of the Creed text were interspersed with hymn verses.


Creed: 1-4


Creed: 5-6


Creed: 7-12


Creed: 13-18


Creed: 19


Creed: 20-23


Creed: 24-26


Creed: 27-35


Creed: 36-40


In this way this great confession of faith may find a happier home in the worship lives of our congregations.

6. The Small Catechism, p. 31

The ELS translation is included (with alterations to fit the liturgical texts). It invites a variety of uses, but especially as a spoken responsory to the readings in Matins and Vespers. How good it would be to have the congregation recite the catechism twice a year, at least during Advent and Lent! The "Christian Questions and Answers" may be useful to those congregations that continue the practice of communion announcements. They are also useful as a preparation for individual absolution.

7. The Prayers for Worship, p.40, are rich in hope, comfort and joy. I hope that this page is not lost in the shuffle!


Four rites or forms are included to invite each congregation that uses the ELH to experience a celebration of the main service of Christendom in a variety of forms. We hope that congregations will take this opportunity to use the forms of Divine Service in ELH in their entirety, even if parish practice and tradition have omitted or changed certain parts in the past. It may be good to refrain from changing the new forms until the people have become comfortable with the forms as they are presented in the ELH. The final forms of the creeds were prepared by the Doctrine Committee of the ELS, and are slightly different from the forms sent out to the parishes a number of years ago.

Rite One: a revision of the Danish-Norwegian Rite of 1685 as it was set forth in a renewed form by the church of Norway in the 19th century. Our changes are reflected in the minor language updates and in the restoration of the Agnus Dei.

Rite Two: a revision of the Common Service of the 19th century American Lutherans. ELH changes are reflected in the language updates and in the restoration of an Exhortation to the Communicants. A nine-fold Kyrie Eleison is offered as an alternate to the three-fold form, especially during Advent or Lent.

Rite Three: the historic Lutheran Service in new language and new music. This rite was prepared for ELH.

Rite Four is based on the "Deutsche Messe" tradition inaugurated by Luther. The chorale or congregational hymn paraphrases the texts of the Ordinary of the Mass: Kyrie, Gloria in excelsis Deo, the Creed, Sanctus and Agnus Dei. See volume 53 of the American Edition of Luther's Works for a further description of this service (p. 52 ff).

9. Services for the HOURS of the Day.

Four different services are included in ELH to celebrate the times of the day. They may be used in devotions at home, at school, and on Sundays when there are no communicants.

Prime, p.108, is a reworking of this service of prayer for the early morning. It is especially appropriate for family devotions at the beginning of the day.

Matins, p. 109, is familiar to those who used TLH, the chief difference being the addition of a form for confession at the beginning of the service. Matins is used in the morning.

Vespers, p. 120, is also drawn from TLH. The form for confession is also added to this service. Vespers is used in the afternoon and evening.

Compline, p. 128, is a service for use later in the evening, and is especially appropriate for personal or family devotions at bedtime.

10. Private Confession and Absolution, p. 129 may be used along with the form on p. 35 for those who wish to make use of this opportunity.

11. Corporate Confession, p. 130, ff. is based on the form from TLH with additions from the Altar Book that was designed to accompany LHry of 1913.

12. Holy Baptism, p. 133 ff. is based on historic forms of the church with suggestions drawn from Lutheran liturgies of the 19th century. It was prepared for ELH in the hope that congregations might be drawn into a more active participation when this sacrament is administered in a large assembly. It has been designed so that it can be used with both infants and adults. Please note that the form for Emergency Baptism is found at the very end of the ELH, similar to its placement in TLH.

13. The Litany and Litany Collects, p. 137, ff. are included as an alternate to the Prayer of the Church, and for use on those times when the Litany is appropriate. It may also be used as an independent prayer office or service. The Suffrages follow the form of TLH, and the two Psalms are pointed to be sung according to the melodies set forth on p. 173 ff.

14. The Introits from the historic calendar are on p.142 ff. The texts are drawn from the NKJV, where applicable. A Gradual has been appointed for each season, rather than one for each Sunday. The Introits and Graduals are not pointed to be sung in ELH, but it is a simple process to set them to the melodies provided for the Psalms so that they may be sung by a soloist or the choir.

The Church Year Collects, p. 147 ff, also follow the historic calendar; the two forms are adapted from the LHry. The collects have been numbered, and appropriate collects have been assigned to the three year lectionary on p. 201 ff.

15. The Prayers on pp. 167-172 provide a wealth of Christian expression. They are included for private use, although some may be appropriate for congregational use. It is our hope that these pages will not be "forgotten". These prayers, along with the orders for Prime and Compline, invite those who use ELH into a renewed observance of the rhythm of daily prayer.

16. The Psalms and Canticles (p.173 ff.) are included for use in the Chief Service, Matins and Vespers, and daily prayer. While it would have been ideal to include the entire Psalter the committee chose those Psalms which are used most regularly in the observance of the Christian Year. The Psalms are divided so that they may be read responsively, but we hope that congregations will at least experiment with the practice of Psalm singing. The four melodies are adapted from ancient Gregorian tones, and they may be sung in unison or in parts. (the music on p. 173 may be copied to assist organists and choirs.) The Gloria Patri is found at the bottom of each page to facilitate its use as a doxology to the Psalms. In an initial use the Psalms may be taught as follows:

Week One:

Organ/piano/handbells... introduce the melody.
1. solo
2. duet
3. quartet (unison)
4. quartet (parts)
5. solo
6. duet
7. quartet (unison)
8. quartet (parts), etc...

Week Two: (the same Psalm is sung, this time the congregation is invited to sing certain verses)

Advent and Lent are good times to introduce the practice of psalm singing. In many instances it will be best to sing the Psalms without instrumental accompaniment. When accompaniment is used it should be rehearsed very thoroughly so as not to detract from the textual rhythm of the sung Psalm. Please note the Canticles and Psalm tables on p.195 ff.

17. The Lectionaries, p. 199 ff.

The Three Year series (ILCW) has been altered to reflect the changes made by Lutheran Worship (LCMS). Please note that appropriate collects and hymns have been suggested for each Sunday and Festival.

The Historic Series is based on the Lectionary of TLH and LHry. The second and third series of Lessons correspond thematically to the Historic Series, and were formulated by the Scandinavian Churches in the late 19th century. A single OT Lesson is included, based on the lectionary in TLH.

18. The Glossary on p. 204 defines the most basic terms. There are others which are not defined; it is good for people to have questions about certain words and certain practices. These times of questioning may become delightful teaching/learning situations. Most church libraries will have books that can explain terms in more detail.


The selection of hymn tunes and texts was the most daunting task faced by the committee. It would be an easy thing to prepare a hymnal with 1500 tunes and texts. It would be fun to prepare a hymnal with 1000 tunes and texts. But to select and limit the hymn corpus as we have had to do in ELH is a difficult task indeed. Many good texts and tunes were rejected for the sake of those that the committee deemed to be better or more in keeping with the combination of the traditions of LHry and TLH. We were assisted in our work by many who made personal suggestions.

It is our hope that congregations will welcome "old friends" from the LHry and TLH, just as they will give a fair trial to that which at first seems new and different. (Choirs are sometimes hesitant to embrace that which at first seems new and challenging. I have learned to encourage them with the following statement: When you can sing it from memory tell me whether you like it or not! The outcome is predictable. We love what we know, and know what we love.) Careful planning will help. Nobody enjoys driving down a new freeway, but when we have had a chance to study a map and make the trip a couple of times we can survive the drive and may actually enjoy the trip! The pastor, choir director and organist are the ones who must navigate. Our new Hymnary is quite conservative; it would be fairly easy to use it and just plug in all the old traditions from TLH and LHry. How much better to approach it as something brand new and rejoice in the challenges set before us in learning that which seems new!


The meter of the hymn tune and text appears directly below the title.

The information in the upper left of the hymn relates to the text. The first line may be in a foreign language. This is the first line of the poetry in the original. The name and dates of the poet or the source of the poem comes next. If the text is a translation the translator's name and dates appear.

The information in the upper right of the hymn relates to the music. The line in caps and italics is the "tune name". Hymn tunes are assigned names to help in their categorization, and to aid other musicians, especially organists, to find suitable music that is based on the melody for use in the service. Then the composer and dates, or source of the melody is given. If the melody appears in a musical arrangement or "setting" by another composer, that information appears on the third line.

All this information may seem a bit luxurious, but it helps us to understand that the words which we sing bear witness to the great cloud of saints who surround us. We are not alone in our confession of the faith. This is one of the great comforts of hymnody, and one of the important reasons to include this information at the top of each page. Every hymn has a story, and that story is usually worth knowing. This information invites those who sing the hymns to explore those stories.

The hymn text has been placed between the music staves (up to five lines). Where more than five lines are set to the music a pointer has been inserted at the beginning of the third line throughout the hymn to assist in keeping the poetic lines clear. Extra verses are set outside of the music.

The information at the bottom of the page relates to the thematic arrangement of the hymns.


The bulk of the hymns (87-559) are arranged according to the Gospel themes of the historic church year lectionary as it was retained by the Lutheran Church (de tempore lieder; hymn of the day; proper hymn). The remaining hymns reflect ordinary use: Invocation (beginning of service); Worship and Praise (including hymn paraphrases of the texts of the liturgy); Morning; Evening; Benediction (close of service).

This arrangement is not an innovation. It is a continuation of a practice that was widespread throughout the church even before the Reformation. The Lutheran Church built upon the de tempore tradition in which certain chants, prayers and hymn texts were given to each day in the church year, and assigned certain hymn texts and tunes to specific Sundays and festivals of the year. This practice endured in Norway where the book of the "people's song" took the place of the old choir books of the pre-Reformation period. This arrangement was championed by T.H. Kingo, the great Danish hymnist, and became the standard for the arrangement of hymnals for centuries, and was the standard for the arrangement of hymns in LHry.

This avoids a topical arrangement of hymns common to those traditions which cast off the liturgical year and its observance. ELH provides a topical arrangement in addition to the de tempore arrangement, however. Topical suggestions are found in the lower right of each page. Hymns for Holy Communion are found in the hymns for Maundy Thursday. Hymns for Youth and Education are found in Epiphany 1 (The Child Jesus in the Temple); likewise Marriage and Family hymns are found in Epiphany 2 (Christ's Miracle at Cana), etc. We hope that our arrangement will encourage preachers and hearers to explore the rich topical assignments provided for in the ordered readings of the church year.

Ultimately the best way to get to know the hymnal is to use it in its entirety. Strenuous use will revive "old favorites" and create "new friends". For the time being it would probably be best to use the appointed tunes set to the text, even if they are different from the established parish tradition. In the long run congregations will have more tunes at their disposal. Think of how many new hymns a congregation could learn in three years if they only attempted to learn one new hymn each month!

Send comments to: gargy@blc.edu