Worship, a publication of the monks of Saint John's Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota, was launched on the First Sunday of Advent, 1926, as Orate Fratres. Its founding editor was Dom Virgil Michel, OSB, who was assisted by other well-known pioneers of the modern liturgical movement, including Americans Gerald Ellard, SJ, Martin Hellriegel, William Busch, and Justine Ward; Donald Attwater from England; and Irish Franciscan James O'Mahony. Its primary aim was to develop and promote a better understanding of what the liturgy is and does, thereby enabling all men and women to participate more actively and fruitfully in the church’s worship.
To fulfill this goal, Dom Virgil Michel set out four specific objectives. The first was to promote a renewed sense of the corporate nature of the church, embodied in the local parish as the body that can most effectively carry the Gospel to the world. Michel believed that corporate evangelism must take pride of place in a congregation’s activities and in the worship of Christians. He maintained that lay participation in the liturgy could build up congregations into active communities of service and love.
Michel’s second objective was to ensure the local church’s active participation in the everyday lives of men and women: in their work, in their leisure activities, and in their social concerns. Michel realized that the local church must engage the people, not just at Mass on Sunday, but in all aspects of their daily lives. Parishes must be equally interested in and responsibly engaged with national questions, both economic and political, and in the world's problems, especially poverty and war. Their worship must come out of human life and return people to the serious business of life formed not only in the abstract realms of theology but also in the concrete realities of marriage and family life, work, sickness, and leisure.
Michel’s third objective addressed those alienated from the economic order. Realizing that unemployed industrial workers in Europe felt cut off from all hope of a fulfilling life, Michel came to see the necessity for new Christian ventures. To be true to the mission of Jesus Christ, the church should be specially searching for and serving the unemployed and marginalized. Michel was convinced that the lonely and poor needed to feel wanted, and one thing the church should be able to provide them was a sense of belonging to a human community. Without community there was no Christian hope for the hungry and the ragged, the oppressed and the overworked.
Out of his perception of a lack of corporate embrace of others in society and church, Michel emphasized a fourth objective, the renewal of corporate worship: To grow into the unity of the body of Christ and to correct the religious individualism that characterized so much of the religious activity of the church, laypersons must learn to worship together. In the United States, liturgies in which all participated fully would witness to a new Christian humanism that could safeguard the dignity of the individual person within the context of a larger community. Against the gray landscape of widespread poverty, the breaking of bread and the sharing of the eucharistic bread could challenge the selfishness and narcissism, the emptiness and frustration that regularly result in a withdrawal from others.
To address all these objectives, Michel created a cutting-edge, interdisciplinary journal capable of offering resources for sound catechesis and addressing pastoral practices. After his sudden death in 1938, the editorial policy of the journal carried on his rich tradition. His immediate successor was Godfrey Diekmann, another monk of Saint John's Abbey, who had studied at Sant'Anselmo in Rome and at the Abbey of Maria Laach in Germany. Diekmann, the editor-in-chief for about forty-five years, was one of the prime movers in the North American Liturgical Conference during the 1940s and 1950s, served as a peritus at the Second Vatican Council, and was one of the founders of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy. In 1951, twenty-five years after the founding of the journal, the journal’s name was changed to Worship, an indication of its stalwart support for the growing interest in the use of the vernacular in liturgical celebrations that would enable participation by the whole body of believers.