The Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (ELH) was produced by the worship committee of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, a group of pastors and congregations who trace their theological lineage through the Norwegian immigration of the nineteenth century and the Synodical Conference of American Lutheranism to the Evangelical Reformation of Denmark and Lutheran Germany in the sixteenth century.
The most immediate parentage of the ELH is the Lutheran Hymnary of 1913 (LHry) and The Lutheran Hymnal of 1941 (TLH).
The ELS attempted the production of a hymnal supplement a number of times over the last 40 years. In each instance the proposed supplement was abandoned for financial and other reasons. Most congregations of the ELS used LHry or TLH, and were comfortable with the diversity of practice. In the late 1980's several congregational circuits of the ELS requested the worship committee to study the possibility of the production of a hymnal that would combine the liturgical and hymnic traditions of the LHry and TLH. As a result of memorials received from congregations of the synod, the 1990 synodical convention directed the worship committee to study the feasibility of hymnal production. The idea was embraced and developed by the ELS worship committee, and was supported by the subsequent annual conventions of the ELS.
The worship committee was also entrusted with the work of fund raising for the book. The book was sold on a pre-publication subscription basis to congregations and friends of the synod, and memorial gifts were invited to further "endow" the project. Without the support of those early subscribers and donors this book would not exist today. The synod owes them an immense debt of gratitude for their support of the project "sight unseen".
Every pastor and congregation in the ELS was invited to study the lists of hymns and the liturgical material that was being proposed for inclusion in the book. Some congregations began using the sample liturgical material, and as a result of their use alterations were made in the proposed texts, music and rubrics. The Doctrine Committee of the ELS also studied the proposed book, made suggestions for modifications, and finalized forms of the revisions of the Creeds. Many individuals offered suggestions, and volunteer proofreaders throughout the synod were especially helpful in preparing the final draft. Though the committee is hesitant to isolate individuals in their thanks it is necessary to especially thank Carol Webber for her exceptional work in proofing the music, texts and attributions of the hymns.
The ELH was never intended to be the official worship resource of the synod. It was designed to serve congregations of the synod along with other orthodox worship resources. As of March 1, 1997, the book is being used by 36 ELS congregations, and has sold over 9000 copies.
The committee endeavored to retain and combine elements of the LHry and TLH traditions along with new hymnody and liturgical music representative of the liturgical movement of the last thirty years. Latin, Scandinavian, German, English and American hymn tunes and texts are joined in ELH to form a combination that is unique in the Lutheran community.
The LHry of 1913 was produced by a committee that attempted to reconcile the worship practices of three diverse groups of Norwegian American Lutheran churches: the Norwegian Synod, Hauge's Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Synod, and the United Norwegian Lutheran Church in America. It was a document that prepared the way for a union of those three groups in 1917. At the time of that union a small group of pastors and congregations went their own way and formed a very small synod dedicated to maintaining the teachings and practice of their parent body, the Norwegian Synod. These churches continued to use the Hymnary, even though it served as a merger document, and some continue to do so. Over the years the ELS allowed for a variety of hymnal use in the churches of the synod, and the liturgical usage was governed by the synodical constitution only insofar as the dictate that the forms of service should conform to the rites of 1) the Danish Ritual of 1685 as it was revised by the state church of Norway in the 19th century and translated for use in LHry and 2) the Common Service of American Lutheranism.
The Danish-Norwegian Rite called for a full liturgical service, similar to Luther's German Mass. Vestments, candles, altar paintings and crucifixes were typically used in the service of the Norwegian Synod, as was the practice of chanting by the pastor, especially for the Lord's Prayer and the Words of Institution. The historic lectionary was retained, but the choral propers for the service took the form of congregational hymnody. This practice instilled a great love for the hymnody of the church, both in the parent churches of Norway and in the Norwegian churches in the USA.
The hymns in the LHry were arranged in order for the Sundays of the Church Year, following a practice that can be traced to Thomas Kingo, the Danish pastor and poet. This arrangement emphasized hymnody as the ever changing congregational proper of the Sundays and festival days of the calendar. This Sunday to Sunday arrangement is retained in the ELH. All hymns have been assigned to a Sunday or festival, and a topical designation is applied to each Sunday as well.
The ELH retains a number of other church year customs from the liturgy of Denmark and Norway, some of which reflect changes made at the time of the Reformation. The Baptism of our Lord may be observed on the Sunday before Lent, the Annunciation may be observed on the Fifth Sunday in Lent. These observations may bring these important observations back into the common usage of the Lutheran parish. Other suggestions for the transfer of festivals includes the observance of Presentation on the first Sunday in February, the Visitation on the first Sunday in July, St. Michael on the last Sunday of September, Reformation on the last Sunday of October and All Saints' on the first Sunday of November.
When the state church of Norway revised the liturgy in the 19th century it introduced the practice of general confession in the service. At that time the Kyrie eleison was placed after the general confession of sins, with the Gloria in excelsis Deo preceded by the absolution. This custom is maintained in Divine Service: Rites One and Three. Another aspect of that revision is a three year cycle of preaching texts based on the historic lectionary.
The Small Catechism and Augsburg Confession were retained in the old Hymnary, reinforcing the idea that a hymnal is a book of confession and instruction. This was another continuation of the thought and practice of the old Norwegian Synod, and although the inclusion of AC and SC was still common among the Lutheran books of Europe in 1913, it had already been lost to most English-speaking Lutherans in the USA. ELH retains the custom in the hope that congregations of the Augsburg Confession who use the book may see what our churches confess, teach and practice.
The various rites included in the Common Service were used by much of Lutheranism in 1913, and its form of the Divine Service was included in the old Hymnary with the musical setting used by the LCMS and the Synodical Conference. This service used the historic propers, and they were included in the Hymnary and were used by those congregations who desired a service along the lines of Luther's "Formula Missae". Many congregations in the ELS used the Common Service as their chief service, and this use was heightened as Hymnaries were discarded and replaced with TLH.
The historic propers of the Common Service are included in ELH along with Psalms and Canticles that are pointed to be sung for a full observance of the Divine Service, Matins, or Vespers as they were formulated for inclusion in the Common Service.
Those who do not know the great Lutheran hymnic output of Scandinavia will be introduced to it in ELH. Kingo, Brorson and Landstad rank among the most neglected of Lutheran poets in our hymnals; perhaps it is time for gifted translators to step forward and reexamine the hymnic production of these prolific poets. The folk melodies and the tunes from the Romantic era of Norway, Sweden and Denmark may have been neglected in our time; they are examples worthy of study, and they are delightful to sing.
Those who appreciate the tradition of the German Lutheran Chorale will be pleased to find complete and unabridged translations of the chorales in ELH. New translations of classic chorales appear, and "lost" verses have been restored. One wonders why so many of the Lutheran catechetical-liturgical songs of praise have been "edited" and abbreviated over the years. It would seem that there is a poetic and theological integrity in the old chorales that we would be well served to respect and use in our weekly and daily prayers and praise.
The ELH includes chorale melodies in their original rhythmic-melodic form as well as the adapted chorales in their isometric-harmonic settings. The chorales of the sixteenth century possess a strong rhythmic and melodic vitality. The original rhythms were modified over the centuries, and eventually the chorale appeared in a "straightened out" form with a melody in quarter notes and half notes. This isometric or harmonic version reflected changes in the musical art. These chorales have a majestic harmonic and chromatic vitality. The chorale harmonizations of J.S. Bach are among the greatest musical treasures of the Lutheran Church, and many of them may be adapted to congregational use. The two musical forms exist side by side in ELH. Happy the congregation that is comfortable in their zeal to sing both forms of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God! The musical variety evidenced by the evolution of the Chorale through the ages seems to be a testimony to its use in so many and various times, places and situations. How nobly this musical carriage has delivered the Gospel of Christ to such diverse generations and tongues of Christians!
Lutherans in America owe a debt of gratitude to those poets and composers in England and America who created an English language hymnody. Isaac Watts, the Wesleys and the Romantic churchmen and women are prominent among the grand parade, but the poets and composers of the Scottish and American Psalters are also represented, as is the rich folk and popular song repertoire of the British Isles, the Appalachians and the American Hymn Tune Movement, inaugurated by Mason and imitated by those who continue to supply the American churches with new tunes and harmonizations that are singable and artistic.
Those who seek a contemporary poetic and musical witness to the faith will discover a generous sampling of texts and tunes in ELH produced by our own generation. The music of Divine Service: Rite Three was composed for ELH by Alfred Fremder. The composer worked within the most severe limitations regarding range and keyboard demands that were imposed by the committee. We believe the result reflects late twentieth century neo-classicism and the reality of congregational ability. It is our hope that this service will find regular use among those congregations with ELH. In addition there are many new tunes, new harmonizations and new texts that will find a happy home among the treasures that we already use as congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran confession.
The ELS worship committee found a great helper in Rodney Schrank and the entire staff of MorningStar Music in St. Louis. His agreement to take on the project development and printing resulted in a worship resource that is legible and inviting to use. We are thankful for his "eagle eye", constructive criticism and ever present sense of humor. MorningStar is an independent publishing house that is well acquainted with the needs of the Lutheran parish. We would encourage everyone to study their catalog and make use of the wide variety of music and text available from this publisher. Included in their catalog are the scores and recordings of the chorale and hymn preludes by Paul Manz as well as "E'en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come", one of the most beloved choral compositions of the century. Mr. Schrank's zeal for the project was second only to the committee's, and we are most grateful to him.
ELH is another sign that God continues to further the cause of His Word. May this book prosper in that for which it was designed, and may the God of all grace bless those who spread abroad the rich treasure of divine forgiveness, life and salvation enfleshed in Christ Jesus who is our Liturgy and our Song of songs.
The Content of ELH:
It is the hope of the committee that we may be of further service to the synod, especially in the preparation of an Organists Edition of the Liturgy, an Altar Book, an Agenda, a Handbook to the Hymnary, Organ/Piano preludes to the hymns in ELH, and recordings of the new music in ELH, especially as these editions and recordings are already in demand by congregations and friends of the synod who are using the ELH.
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