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Confessions of a Restorationist

We are not restorationists because it is an aesthetic choice or an exercise in historical anachronism. We are not restorationists because we like to play dress-up and to pretend it was not 2022. We know very well the evil times in which we live.

Interior of the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica, Ottawa, Canada. (Image: Marc-Olivier Jodoin/

“Restoration” is a tricky word. If we are talking about a work of art, that typically involves the painstaking, patient and brutally slow work of removing layers of paint, pollution and other alterations which hide the original beauty of an artist’s creation. If the work is done correctly and with diligence, the result can be absolutely magnificent, like the restoration of the Sistine Chapel a few years ago, or the cleaning of Bernini’s Colonnade in Rome, which now glistens with a blinding white cleanliness. Of course, there are also, for lack of a better term, ‘botched’ restorations, like the infamous ‘restoration’ of Elias Garcia Martinez’s Ecce Homo, which completely defaced the original beauty of the work. Almost all restoration aims at rediscovering a good which has become occluded, whether aesthetic beauty or moral goodness.

‘Restorationism’ to me is an even more tricky word. As an ideology, it is the desire to bring back a state of affairs which existed before. In that case, the operative question in my mind ought to be: what is the terminus ad quem, the goal to which the restorationist strives? Is it a renewal of something which is objectively good or beautiful? Or is it an imposition of an imaginary ‘Golden Age’ or state of affairs which may or may not have existed, and may not even be attainable in the here and now? Is it a search to bring into the present what is always and everywhere good, or is it a Quixotic crusade for the unattainable?

Restoration seems to be an intrinsically positive work. Restorationism seems to be a contingently positive work; that is, contingent upon its end goal. Yet this sort of nuance seems to be completely missing in contemporary Church criticism of this very real movement, brought to the present once again by the Holy Father’s recent critical words regarding “restorationists”, especially in the United States. I would like to humbly, respectfully and thoughtfully unpack what I think this means, and what it does not mean.

In the decades before the Second Vatican Council, the Church was full of extremely talented, brilliant and devout men and women who were working toward the restoration of the Church, and most especially her Liturgy, a movement which is still called the original “Liturgical Movement”. That movement, which had a parallel movement in the theological resourcement, sought to go back to the Fathers of the Church and the Sacred Scriptures in order to reenergize our understanding of theology. Even if some of the methods were dead-ends, I believe to this day that most of those scholars were sincerely committed to seeking the face of Christ and assisting the Christian faithful in truly understanding the power and the mystery of the Sacred Liturgy. We are deeply indebted to their contributions and writings, even if we do not accept all their conclusions.

In the context of recent criticism, what does “restorationist” in the pejorative sense mean? This is, like so many liberal uses of words, nebulous. Are there some that want to turn back the clock to 1962? Certainly. Are there some that want to turn back the clock to 1570? I’m sure there are at least some. But time for us mortals only moves forward, and not backward. Yet we are blessed with the power of memory and of reason, and any historical analysis of our Church ought to note as objectively as possible what was good and what was bad about the “old days”, and draw wisdom from what our ancestors taught and handed down to us.

What I find most distressing about the criticism of ‘restorationism’ is a lack of nuance as to what type of restoration the Pope is referring; is it an ahistorical, utopian attempt to bring back the past? If he is speaking thusly, I can only reply that such a description is a complete mutilation of what many well-meaning Catholics mean when they aim toward a restoration of those things which were done before the Second Vatican Council. When I talk to many historically and theologically educated Catholics, what I hear is an attempt to restore things like beauty, solemnity and reverence to the Sacred Liturgy. I hear a cry from the heart of the faithful for a full-throated and unapologetic defense of the teachings of the Church from those responsible for her instruction. I have literally seen, often with tears, a profound yearning for a Church which is obedient and in lock step with the commandments of her Divine Master, a Church which desires no idols, and has no God but the Lord of Hosts.

If this is the restoration that the Holy Father and his partisans decry, I cannot do anything but scratch my head in utter bewilderment, because I wonder how my spiritual Father and Brother Priest cannot have the same deep aspirations which I also have. I want to see our seminaries full, our pews full, our schools full. I want to see holy and happy families. I want to feel the intense sense of adoration filling the Church when the Holy Sacrifice is offered. If that makes me a restorationist, I am guilty as charged.

If this is our operative definition, I glory in being a restorationist. What the Old Rite has and had to offer, is still our sacred treasure and ought to be viewed with reverence. When I have gone to visit the catacombs, I emerged from the dark, humid labyrinth, not to raise those ruins to the sun above and to rebuild Roman baths and basilicae, but rather I desire to take with me into the world the steadfast faith of the martyrs, the love of the virgins, the strength of the Confessors. I emerged from that abode of the dead with living faith.

I will never forget once going to Rome with my father, where we once visited the Necropolis beneath Vatican Hill. After visiting and reverencing the bones of Peter, my father and I were filled with a profound spiritual awe, that we had tread holy ground, that we had been witnesses to something which has not perished, even though it is buried by the sands of time. When we were coming out and entering the Basilica, all of a sudden, as if on cue, we heard the Roman chant thunder gloriously, Credo in unum Deum, the Nicaean Creed of the Mass. What rapturous joy that gave me, to come directly up from the tomb of Peter, the rock on which Christ built his Church, to hear above the full-throated proclamation of the same faith! Such sentiments are noble and ennobling, and will abide with me for the rest of my days.

To say that we do not need restoration today is to deny that, at least in part, our Church, and the practice of her faith, has become obscured by sin and by error. For that reason, we do not reject the Church, nor the faith. We merely wish for the removal of sin and error, so that the glory and beauty found there may shine for the faithful and for the world to see. I so wish that some of our leaders who criticize our noble aspirations could understand the love and the joy at the heart of it all, and why it hurts so deeply to be marginalized and accused of being against the Church and her Councils.

Could anything be further from the mind and the soul of the devout Catholic? This is no mere lip service; thousands of men and women on almost every continent are involved even now in so many apostolic labors to restore our Church in virtually every endeavor. Many have sacrificed significant material and personal resources in order to put their ‘hand to the plow’ in this sacred and necessary work. We do not seek to destroy the legitimate work of the Council or its teachings. What we object to is the bastardization of the same Council and its illegitimate interpretation, which is not according to the standards of the Church, but of the world.

One may level at us the criticism, “but is not the Papal Magisterium, though, a certain and authoritative interpreter of what qualifies as a legitimate interpretation?” And we would reply, “Yes!” We reply with support of the continuing Magisterium of Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI: in short, all the men who were there at the Council and presided over the reforms. Yes, we affirm and consent also to those pronouncements which are manifestations of the Magisterium of Pope Francis! Yet all these men were and are not so blind as to not see problems. All reforms are fraught with them. Some reforms at Councils fail utterly. That does not mean we reject the Council: it means we respectfully disagree regarding its implementation. And the means by which we disagree are not prejudice and insult, but rather history, Tradition, Scripture, mysticism, piety; in short, all the tools and methods with which the original resourcement animated the work of the Second Vatican Council. We are restorationists because we are intensely dedicated to the reform of the Church.

We are restorationists because the language and worship of the Church is not an appendage to our life, but is its heart. If one disagrees with our arguments, argue with us. Dialogue with us. Reason with us. Engage our minds and move our hearts. Do not dismiss us, do not attack us.

For fifty years after the Council, many of us have held the line against the dissolution of Christian faith and morals against a rising tide of threats. The liturgy above all is our sacred oasis, the mystical spring from which the flock of Christ draws its sustenance. How can we be faulted for wanting to worship God better? There are those among us, numero sed non merito, who have that “form of godliness yet denying its power”, who say they want the restoration we desire, but do not want to see the victory and exaltation of Holy Mother Church, but rather to see her subdued and on her knees before the world, with her mouth gagged and her beauty and honor besmirched.

We are not restorationists because it is an aesthetic choice or an exercise in historical anachronism. We are not restorationists because we like to play dress-up and to pretend it was not 2022. We know very well the evil times in which we live. We know the past was not without its troubles. Yet we wish to bring forth into the troubled world the love, the light, and the power of Christian witness. In that sense, for us, restorationism is not a choice, but a moral obligation. This conviction beats in all our hearts because we are men and women of conscience, and because of our whole-hearted allegiance to Christ and all his teachings, imperfectly though we may practice them.

At the same time, let us repent for the ways in which we have not represented well our holy desires, but have allowed them to be obscured with contentious polemics and empty spectacle. If the Pope says he despises our goals, let us show we love him all the more and will return a blessing for a curse. Let us pray for him that he may have his prejudices against us removed from his spiritual sight.

Together let us implore mercy from the Father of Mercies, that even as our internal and external enemies wax in strength, as for us and our houses, we will continue to serve the Lord, and accept no gods before Him.

(Editor’s note: This essay originally appeared, in slightly different form, on the Scutum et Lorica site.)

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About Aquae Regiae 11 Articles
Aquae Regiae is the Nom de plume of Fr. Michael, a Catholic priest in the United States. He is the founder and main editor of Scutum et Lorica. He has two earned Masters Degrees in Divinity and Arts.


  1. Pope Francis is clear in his portrayal of the “restorationist.” In various instances he has referred to them as those seeking to “restore” the old pre-Vatican II liturgy or the Tridentine Mass and in the process disregard, discard, “resist” or “reject” the reformed liturgy and the Vatican II Mass as the ordinary order of the Roman Rite of the Eucharist. This old order Mass in Latin is precisely that which the Vatican II Fathers saw the need of reform of in the first place. By way of ressourcement (return to original authoritative, meaning Biblical and Patristic, sources) and aggiornamento (updating) the conciliar bishops have laid the foundations for the launching of the new (meaning reformed) order Vatican II Mass in the languages of the people which include Latin. The “restorationists” in their rigid, or at best dead, understanding of tradition as a frozen and dead past rather than as a continuing (from the past) and living present, have morphed to become the small but loud “resisters” and “rejectionists” not just of the Vatican II Mass but of the Vatican II Council as a matter of consequence. Going along with what Pope Francis thinks we can device this mnemonics of the 3Rs as one and the same: restorationist, resister, rejectionist. This mnemonics is again highlighted in his latest and relevant (in our discussion here) letter on the liturgical formation of Catholics, “Desiderio Desideravi.”

    • Instead of referring, yet again, to what the Fathers of VII intended with regard to the rite of the Mass – and a certain Josef Cardinal Ratzinger noted, a 1976 letter to a colleague that the reformed liturgy was NOT at all what they intended – shouldn’t we address the Church’s most pressing needs of the present? The fact that, even prior to the COVID pandemic, Mass attendance had cratered, that more than 70% of Catholics who do attend Mass don’t believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist? Or that a majority of Catholics have no problem with liberal abortion policies? How doe we address these urgent problems? I’m not sure where to start myself, but I can’t see where continually citing the aims of VII 60 years ago provide any direction. None at all, as a matter of fact.

    • Did you actually read this article? Your argument is a straw man. The author clearly discussed what restorationists are and are not. They are not what you describe.

  2. Amen. Along with Anthony Esolen’s article in Crisis magazine, this essay should be translated into Italian and/or Spanish so the luminaries in Rome might “get it”. Oh rats. Both these writers seem to be American.

  3. Thank you, I am in tears.
    Lord God, I believe that the gates of hell can not prevail.
    St Michael, defend the Church.

  4. Pontiff Francis makes no mention of a desire on his part to “accompany” the “Restorationists.” But he did make ample time to “accompany” a politician who vigorously supports the abortion of unborn human persons and her husband who just a few weeks back was charged with drunken driving.

    In our progressive Church, we have no shortage of words and multi-page decrees on just about any and all topics. But, among faithful Catholics, actions speak louder than words. We know more about a person from what they do than from anything they say.

    • Well said. And he also made time for a private meeting with James Martin,SCH, who left feeling “encouraged and supported.” You can’t make this stuff up.

  5. A beautiful manifesto by a faithful Catholic priest.

    I have made his site a favorite.

    Thanks to CWR for publishing this.

  6. Fr Michael,
    Thanks so much for this very thoughtful, insightful, historical perspective on “Restorationism”! I love the way you end it by urging prayers for Pipe Francis, as I think he is getting terrible, non-factual, prejudiced advice from his close Cardinal advisors. The United States Traditional Mass supporters like me(81 year old lifelong Catholic, K-16. Catholic education, married 57 years, father of nine(9), grandfather of 28), are not a,danger to the Church in the USA or anywhere else. The German “Catholic” Church is where the magisterium hammer should come down hard. Keep up your good work with more essays on our Church. May God bless you for your courage in speaking out. Charles H Willcox Sr Mobile, AL

  7. Restorationist = Resuscitationist.

    We read: “There are those among us […] who say they want the restoration we desire, but do not want to see the victory and exaltation of Holy Mother Church, but rather to see her subdued and on her knees before the world, with her mouth gagged and her beauty and honor besmirched.”

    Worse than that… In January 2001, at an early-morning, busy intersection, I witnessed a pedestrian upended from the cross walk and flying upside down to the pavement some thirty feet away. “Besmirched,” but not even “on her knees.” Stalled four-way traffic and confusion. A crowd of stunned latecomers now babbling to one another, marvelously piecing together a mutually-supportive narrative out of thin air. Was the victim outside the cross walk, was the light red, was the windshield fogged, how fast?

    Providentially, the car I flagged in traffic was driven by a strapped-in doctor and his wife. “Get outa the car!” The victim’s full recovery took probably a year. A simpleton “restorationist” or, as the political arena has had it, “deplorable”? Or, instead, a resuscitationist!

    Yours truly was the only one who actually saw the impact, and yet was the only one not interviewed by the police (“no thanks, I already have enough ‘witnesses’ here”). Synodality? I submitted my statement in writing—and it wasn’t long before insurance companies called in the hopes that I might orally contradict my accurate (“rigid”!) statement.

    It’s high time to rescue the abused Holy Mother Church from the ditch—with all of the breathing parts intact.

  8. I am a Brazilian believer and I simply consider this article excellent. I would like to join my prayers with the author’s for the end of the holy pope’s prejudices against the Restorationists and to prevent the Church from kneeling before the world.

    • Traditionalists want sensible, gradual, organic development of the ancient liturgy. Not one thrown together by a committee and shoved onto the entire Latin Church.

      The ’65 Missal was the ‘Mass of the Council.’ Later something much more radical was cobbled up. The traditionalist movement actually got its start during the ‘middle years.’

      • Sorry, I wasn’t making a reply to you specifically. Was meaning to make a general comment.

  9. An important plea for godliness. Every day we “restore” our relationship with God by means of confession, prayer and handling the eternal word of truth that God gives us. We long for holiness in our selves and in the church. This is noble and honours God who is the same today, yesterday and forever.

    When those in elevated office attempt to alter God’s word, it is never good for the flock. God is our bedrock on which we stand and proclaim His eternal mercies. Mere man always has some sort of failing and a distorted view of scripture.

    By means of the shed blood of our Lord and Saviour; our reborn spirit and the indwelling of the Holy Spirt are we able to make progress. Being saved is easy (Jesus paid the price) being sanctified is a life long task.

    John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

    2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

    John 4:24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

    John 8:31-32 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

    John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

    Psalm 119:160 The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.

    Blessings and thanks.

  10. This is one of the best written and thought out articles regarding the “conflict” between many Catholics and the misunderstanding that other Catholics, including the Pope and most of the hierarchy have with those of us who try to live the “Faith of our Fathers, living still in spite of dungeon, fire and sword”. Many thanks for presenting this and including the link to the author’s blog.

  11. This nice account is marred by being credulously pegged on what are disastrous mis-restorations of works of art – and was most especially so in the case of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes, as has often been visually and historically demonstrated on the ArtWatch UK website. Moreover, on careful visual appraisals, the distinction between “good” high-end professional restorations and bad amateur restorations is very often seen to be without artistic foundation.

  12. Pope Francis is definitely a restorationist. He aims to restore, not merely a ritual, but the CHURCH, the unique family that our Lord established after he accomplished his mission on the cross. Adam’s family was lost, except for those who were/are born again or baptized into our Lord’s family. However, it is indeed sad to see that over the centuries the love, care and concern for our neighbors that existed during the Church’s early days has been waning.
    This site has a beautiful article that helps us realize what our Pope believes. “Together we can and must continue to care for human life, the protection of creation, the dignity of work, the problems of families, the treatment of the elderly and all those who are abandoned, rejected or treated with contempt,” he said. “In a word, we are called to be a Church that promotes the culture of care, tenderness and compassion towards the vulnerable.”
    “Go to crossroads and bring everyone, the blind, the deaf, the lame, the sick, the righteous and the sinner: everyone,” he continued. “This word of the Lord should continue to echo in our hearts and minds: in the Church there is a place for everyone.”
    The pope referenced The Drama of Atheist Humanism by 20th century theologian Henri de Lubac.
    “Then, the great current of newness and life that is the Gospel becomes in our hands — to use the words of Father de Lubac — a faith that ‘falls into formalism and habit…, a religion of ceremonies and devotions, of ornaments and vulgar consolations… a Christianity that is clerical, formalistic, anemic and callous,’”

  13. “I want to see our seminaries full, our pews full, our schools full. I want to see holy and happy families. I want to feel the intense sense of adoration filling the Church when the Holy Sacrifice is offered.” In complete sincerity, I do not think that much of the Church leadership shares your aspirations. I tried just now to think of how many of our bishops and cardinals might want this, but I can’t see it. Of course, when you write what you desire, you must mean seminaries, pews, and schools filled with faithful, virtuous people or at least earnest and repentant people who truly want to be more faithful and virtuous. I don’t think that the Church overseers of today want this; they would rather have the church full of individuals who are where they are at right now, unrepentant and worldly and unconverted, broken families and broken people. Remember, they don’t even really want a church per se, they want a (field) hospital. I have to wonder if the overseers would even know what to do once all the infirmed souls in the hospital recovered and became righteous. That is, I do not think they want a hospital which transforms into a church, I think they just want the hospital. Also, keep in mind that this is not a hospital where people are expected to get well quickly. They are expected to get well “gradually” or rather not at all, in the sense that worldliness is not a condition which they think needs hospital treatment. I haven’t quite figured it out yet, but the overseers and their progressive allies seem to prefer the dysfunctional and abnormal to the natural and supernatural. I am beginning to think this is really because they want the dysfunctional and abnormal to be the new natural and supernatural so they can keep their hospital running and avoid having to build a church. If this is the case, then filling the seminaries, pews, and schools is not going to be one of those aspirations we will be able to share with the overseers.

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