In my books still one of the best Lutheran hymnals in the English language is The Lutheran Hymnal (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1941), a product of the Ev. Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America, which at that time included the Missouri and Wisconsin Synods and the Ev. Lutheran Synod.
TLH starts with a very brief preface and a one-page calendar of the church year, which lets you know, right up front, that this is a hymnal that observes the Gesima Sundays between the seasons of Epiphany and Lent (hence Transfiguration is three weeks earlier than nowadays), and the christological Marian feasts like the Annunciation, Visitation, Circumcision and Presentation. It preserves the Latin names of the Sundays in Lent and the Easter season. It also marks the apostles' and evangelists' days as well as St. Stephen, Holy Innocents, the Reformation, All Saints' Day, St. Michael and All Angels, St. Mary Magdalene's Day and the Conversion of St. Paul. It calls Pentecost "Whitsunday" and numbers the Sundays of Ordinary Time as So Many After Trinity. It has more liturgical feasts on its calendar than some hymnals but fewer than others. These days, one might regard as "conspicuously missing" the Confession of St. Peter, the Baptism of our Lord and perhaps the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession.
The next page, p. 4, offers short prayers for before and after worship and before and after communion, which are really quite beautiful and worth copying into the inside cover of whatever hymnal you use today. The rest of the page is given over to "general rubrics," which explain how to do the red and say the black, etc. (albeit without actual red ink). Most people would be surprised to read what it says, most Lutherans having blithely ignored it for almost 80 years.
The orders of service begin (p. 5) with a version of the Divine Service tailored for non-communion Sundays, a possibility that later hymnals acknowledged by including rubrics in the D.S. roughly saying, "If there is no communion, say the Lord's Prayer at this point and skip to the last page." An interesting thing to note about the liturgics of TLH is that the offertory is understood as a response to the preached word, and in both orders of service are a setting of verses from Psalm 51, "Create in me a clean heart," etc. This is one of those things TLH users took for granted, and so perhaps failed to rise up and defend when it entered a later generation's mind to walk back Luther's reform a bit and restore the idea of the offertory as an opportunity to say to God, while collecting the offering, "Here you go, God, here's our service to you, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a valid Sacrament." On the other hand, the idea of celebrating the Divine Service without communion is an anomaly that this book, unfortunately, helped to enshrine as the norm in American Lutheranism.
The order of communion (p. 15) is exactly the same as p. 5 except, of course, it includes the communion service as well as a different setting of the offertory. It includes some things that were sadly taken for granted and even some things that are not used at all. There was, for example, a chant part for the minister, but somehow or other it didn't get published until some time after the hymnal and its accompanying altar book and agenda, so in effect TLH also became a powerful influence on the widespread American Lutheran perception that it's normal for the pastor to speak and the congregation to sing in response. Originating without any real reason except the precedent established by this accident of publication dates, this usage has become so deeply rooted that in some corners of the church, people are offended by the idea of the pastor chanting his side of the dialogue and accusations of "taking us back to Rome" or "taking us to Eastern Orthodoxy" come into play, all without any historical or doctrinal basis.
It's nice of p. 25 to put the Proper Prefaces for each season of the church year in one place for all to see, rather than burying them in an altar book like some more recent hymnals. This is one of the nice things about TLH; in effect, it makes it possible for the minister to lead the service with nothing but the pew edition of the hymnal and a Bible at his disposal. A couple of books later ... well, that's another story.
The p. 15 service's setting of the Lord's Prayer is challenging for folks to follow today, with the pastor alone reading (or chanting) the petitions and everyone joining in to sing the doxology ("For Thine is the kingdom," etc.). I've noticed a trend in recent years toward congregations joining in the petitions and forcing the organist to decide between interrupting them with the concluding music and staying out of it; apparently, this is a strain on the nerves of some of them.
The book is also helpful enough to give the exact words the pastor is supposed to say while distributing the bread and cup and dismissing the communicants. I sometimes wish the dismissal could go back to "Depart in peace" rather than the long and still growing paragraph of exhortation it has become.
The post-communion canticle is the Nunc dimittis, Simeon's song (Luke 2:29-32), "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace," another example of something beautiful that TLH Lutherans took for granted until a later generation of liturgical leaders decided to replace it with the banal ditty, "Let the vineyards be fruitful."
It would be a shame not to mention the debt this hymnal's liturgical settings owe to the Anglican Chant style of church music. Except for the offertory, the Agnus Dei ("O Christ, the Lamb of God") and the Nunc dimittis, which are German chorales, the rest of this liturgy is played and sung in groups of two or four brief, simple phrases of four-part harmony, repeated over and over so that they're easy to learn and adaptable to any level of musical ability. I think Anglican Chant is a crucial part of why American Lutheran congregations can sing pieces of the liturgy at all. Simple as they are, they are also reverent, expressive and dignified. I have no objection to going the Gregorian route today, but considering where Lutheranism was at when this hymnal came along, I think it's a good thing this hymnal came along when it did.
Following these orders of service are the prayer offices of Matins (morning) and Vespers (evening), also in Anglican Chant settings. As simple and unsophisticated as it is, the three-part setting of the Te Deum ("We praise Thee, O God") in Matins is spectacularly beautiful. Using a simple, unmetrical translation of the ancient Latin creed/hymn, in my opinion, it vastly outshines the metrical paraphrase by Stephen Starke that everyone in my circles currently loves singing to Gustav Holst's tune THAXTED. And while I'm speaking of beautiful things now taken for granted, I also believe that the setting in LSB similar to TLH's Te Deum does gross damage to the shape of this piece ... but I'll discuss that more at another time.
Pieces like the Benedictus (p. 38) and Magnificat (p. 43) are hard to perform because so many verses are lined up under the chant notes that it's hard to keep straight what stanza you're on, from one line to another – especially if you're the organist and you're trying to keep one eye on the notes and the other on the words. There are various tricks you can use to cope, like underlining or highlighting every third verse, but this may be a case where "memorize the music, dummy" is the best advice. The Nunc dimittis on pp. 43-44 suffers from a page turn between its two systems, requiring singers to flip the page back and forth between stanzas – one of the tackiest layout sins in this book.
There's an order for group confession and absolution (p. 46) which, I suppose, had some use at a point in American Lutheran history when people needed to be prepared wholesale for a Lord's Supper that was celebrated less often. There's also a form for opening and closing church schools (p. 50), which I remember using on occasion when I was a parochial school kid, or maybe in Sunday School or weekly chapel services. The Athanasian Creed takes up a whole page (53), pointed to be read responsorially. Then, starting on p. 54, there's a huge section of material that was sadly taken for granted – the introits, collects, graduals and scripture references for every Divine Service of the church year – sorely missed now in the era of LSB, where anyone who doesn't have the Lectionary has to get a bulletin insert from CPH to find out what the propers are, and besides, CPH keeps changing them.
From p. 95 there's also a section of propers for the prayer offices, then (from p. 102) collects – tightly structured, beautifully written prayers – for all kinds of needs and occasions. There's an alternate version of the General Prayer (p. 110), followed by the Litany (a responsorial prayer now popular to use in Lent), Suffrages (kind of the same thing), the Morning and Evening Suffrages (a brief form form of daily devotions, handy to use at home or to open and close meetings), the Bidding Prayer (customary to use on Good Friday), and some longer but excellent prayers for morning, evening, mealtimes, before and after communion and for the sick and dying. THEN biblical canticles (pp. 120 ff.) pointed for chant, but (alas, again) without the melody provided. THEN selected psalms (pp. 123 ff.), likewise pointed for chant and again, due to an accident of publishing dates, effectively the basis for a dry, sleepy tradition of reading the psalms responsorially by half-verse in a dull monotone. TLH actually provides Latin titles for these Psalms, and the fact that we've ignored them all these years just shows how far our educational system has slipped.
The foreparts to TLH include a now useless table of the dates of Easter from 1941 to 2000; a table of the dates of the moveable feasts of the church year depending on the date of Easter; a table of the historic one-year lectionary which includes, beside the same Epistle and Gospel lessons for each Sunday and feast day of the church year that Luther based his postils on, a bonus Old Testament lesson (which this hymnal's compilers selected, apparently, to emphasize the Christ-centered, gospel themes of the Old Testament), as well as a second Epistle and Gospel (for what use I don't know, except I suppose if you're going to have two different Divine Services any given week), and psalms for Matins and Vespers. THEN, putting the cherry on top of the reason I once taught a seminar on how to use TLH as your family prayer book, a table of Old and New Testament lessons for every day of the calendar year – basically, a roadmap to reading the whole Bible once a year. AND a lengthy list of Psalms chosen for each Sunday, feast and festival of the church year. PLUS a 31-day Psalter (i.e. a roadmap to reading the Book of Psalms, morning and evening, in a month). AND a list of suggestions of Psalms to read for different purposes, such as "against the enemies of the church," "against an evil conscience," "for bodily blessings," "for the teachers of the church," etc. THEN a glossary. THEN a list of abbreviations used in the book to follow. And FINALLY, on p. 170, the last numbered page before the hymns start over at 1, a plate with a beautifully chosen Bible verse (Colossians 3:16) and prayer dedicating our songs to His worship.
Skip, skip, skip. The last numbered hymn is 668 (actually more of a canticle, but whatever). THEN you get a table of contents (p. 837), which might perhaps have been more helpful up at the front of the book. So, here's another example of TLH's tackiness by layout. This is where you have to look to figure out what page all those other very useful, but mostly unused, treasures are that I described above. It also explains the layout of the hymns, identifying the first main section (Hymns 1-54) as "adoration" with sub-sections devoted to opening and close of service, Lord's Day, and worship and praise. Then there are the church year hymns (55-275), arranged first by season, then with festivals and saints' days tacked on at the end. The next section, 276-281, is titled "Invitation" and as that means altar call hymns, reveals a hard nugget of "Methodist new measures" tackiness right in the heart of this ostensibly Lutheran book.
Hymns about the Word and Sacraments, confession and absolution, and confirmation follow; then some solid topics like The Redeemer (339-368), Faith and Justification (369-392), Sanctification (The Christian Life, 393-459), Prayer (454-459), the Church (460-512), Cross and Comfort (513-535). Then there are some flimsier topics, like Times and Seasons (536-584) – which includes Harvest and Thanksgiving and, usually the last section in a hymnal, The Nation; then The Last Things (Death and Burial, Resurrection, Judgment, Life Everlasting), hymns 585-619; The Christian Home (Marriage, The Family, Christian Education), 620-631; Special Occasions (Corner-Stone Laying, Dedication, Church Anniversary, Theological Institutions, Foreign Missionaries, Absent Ones) and the Long-Meter Doxology (644). Third section from the end, "Carols and Spiritual Songs" (649-660), is basically the stuff the editors were embarrassed to include among the proper hymns (so, perhaps, another place to spot tackiness). There's a 16th century Lutheran chant setting of the Litany at Hymn 661 (unfortunately, missing the minister's musical cues), and then a handful of Psalms and the Beatitudes in beautiful Anglican Chant style.
The afterparts of the book, following the Table of Contents, is full of instructive and useful stuff, too, if you're a student of hymns or interested in putting them to their most effective use. Page 838 lists the locations of all the doxological stanzas in the hymnal. There's an index of tune names and a metrical index of tunes, useful either for the kind of research I've been doing all my adult life or, at least, for finding an alternate tune for a hymn whose words you like but whose music you don't. There's also an index of first lines (of first stanzas, that is), so if you can remember that much, you can figure out where a hymn is in the book. Then an alphabetical list of authors of the hymn texts (it says it's an index, but it doesn't provide references to which hymns they wrote); another of the composers of the tunes; another of the translators; and at the very back, p. 858, a short form of baptism in case of necessity.
So, that's everything in the book but the hymns; we're out of space for now, so I'll have to get to the hymns themselves in "Tacky Hymns 67." So far, what I think I've illustrated is that TLH is mostly a very useful hymnal, with lots of resources not only for the study of hymns (and psalms and scripture) but also their daily use at home, as well as during the congregation's worship-together time. Some of the poor decisions made in its layout and in the timing of supplementary material had, I think, unintended and far-reaching effects on the sensibilities of a couple generations of American Lutherans. But if you know where to look for the indices, the table of contents, the daily Bible readings, etc., you can get a lot of mileage out of this book as an individual, a family, a study group, or whatever. If you can get hold of that supplemental book with the minister's side of his duet with the congregation, you can experience some beautiful musical dialogues. And if you're on a seek out and destroy (with caustic remarks) mission about hymnody that can only be sung in a Lutheran church service via a (hopefully temporary) suspension of good taste and judgment, that TOC can at least point out a few likely places to get started.
Besides these helps, I might also mention that there are a Handbook and a Concordance to The Lutheran Hymnal, as well as a Lectionary, Altar Book (Liturgy) and Agenda. So there.