My experience of Midnight Mass this year...

This Advent season has been a very difficult time for many people whether it is because of the Sandy Hook shootings, joblessness, weather related phenomena, the looming fiscal cliff, or what-have-you; it has been difficult. It has been much worse for some than others, and for some it has not been bad at all.

After what seemed to me to be a long Advent season, I was excited to go to Mass at midnight to celebrate the long-awaited birth of our Lord. There is something nostalgic, to be sure, about Midnight Mass for me. As a child my mother took us to Midnight Mass every year, and every year Midnight Mass was at midnight. It was not until I moved as a ten-year-old that I first encountered 'Midnight' Mass at some other hour of Christmas Eve. I was horrified.

Nevertheless, the earlier-than-midnight Mass spoke to the American-pragmatist in me. It is difficult and uncomfortable to actually celebrate Midnight Mass at midnight, and we can make it easier for others to attend Mass by playing with the schedule. For instance, this year my parish celebrate the Mass at Night (as it is technically called in the Missal) of the Nativity of our Lord at 8:00pm. There was no Mass celebrated at Midnight. Then, there were two Christmas day Masses: 8:00am and 10:00am. My baptismal parish celebrated it at 7:00pm.  Again, the schedule is all about convenience.

I do not want to have a discussion on the pastoral value of such a practice, nor the theological significance of changing times and the the appointed liturgical hours of the day. I merely want to recount my experience this Christmas.

So, I have rarely found Midnight Mass to be celebrated at midnight since moving from Los Angeles as a child. I cannot fully deny that I did not like getting Mass out of the way to get home and start the real celebration. As I grew older, however, I developed a sense of loss for that tradition. I missed it. I missed the joy of Christmas in the midst of night.

I started seeking out Midnight Mass every year that I had the opportunity, but because I tended to go home for Christmas the opportunity rarely arose. The last two years I was able to go to Midnight Mass at midnight, and it was not until this year that it struck me 'like a ton of bricks,' as they say, the value of this late-night celebration.

Painting a background...

There are layers upon layers that take place, and I will do my best to peel them away carefully. I would be remiss to exclude some background on what I am talking about.

Adam sinned, and by that sin brought sin and death into the world. Original sin, a.k.a. concupiscence, is passed from our first parents to us. Original sin has two material defects, namely the weakening of the will, whereby it is more difficult to do what is right and good, and darkening of the intellect, whereby it is difficult to know good from bad. The more we sin, the harder it is to do what is right. Every particular sin instills in us a habit of sin, and thus, every sin decreases the strength of our will and darkens our intellect more.

In the context of history, the more sinful the individuals who make up a community or nation, the more difficult it is for others within that community or nation to know what is good and right. Sin begets sin, and the intellectual darkness grows darker.

We count pride as the head of all other sins. It is from self-love that all other sins are born. Therefore, pride is the source of our intellectual darkness and moral weakness. God, however, sheds light on this darkness by revealing the Law. First he reveals the Old Law with Moses and then the New Law in Christ. As such the darkness is gradually dispelled by the Law. The prevenient law of our world is the Natural Law and has been God's revelation of law since the beginning. About the Old Law St. Thomas Aquinas says this:
It was fitting that the Law should be given at such a time as would be appropriate for the overcoming of man's pride. For man was proud of two things, viz. of knowledge and of power. He was proud of his knowledge, as though his natural reason could suffice him for salvation: and accordingly, in order that his pride might be overcome in this matter, man was left to the guidance of his reason without the help of a written law: and man was able to learn from experience that his reason was deficient, since about the time of Abraham man had fallen headlong into idolatry and the most shameful vices.
It is at the height of darkness, in this case idolatry of other gods, that the Old Law was revealed. Likewise, it was at the height of darkness, namely the idolatry of the Old Law, that the New Law entered the world. The spirit of the Law was lost on the people of Israel. A rigorist approach to the letter of the law had overwhelmed good-will toward God and neighbor.

Christ came as the New Law to shed light on our darkness.

The darkness into which He was born...  

So, for us the opportunity to reenact, if you will, the spiritual, intellectual, and moral darkness into which Christ was born comes around every year with the winter solstice. The winter solstice unfortunately has its symbolic value limited by the equator and the position of the sun relative to earth. Nevertheless, the winter solstice is that time of year where, in the northern hemisphere, darkness is at its height and night reaches its longest duration. 

The celebration of Christ's birth in the Catholic Church, which in its earliest days was predominately a European and Oriental Church placed the celebration of Christ's birth as near as possible to the solstice. On top of that, in order to drive the point home, the Mass at Night was celebrated in the very heart of the darkness - the middle of the night.

There is sometimes prudence in waiting till the last minute. A "don't shoot till you see the whites of their eyes" approach can be the only way to bring about the necessary change. God hardened Pharaoh's  heart until he had suffered the death of his first-born son (not something that God Himself is unfamiliar with), and only then did Pharaoh let His people go so that they may worship Him in the desert. Even then, Pharaoh only let them go long enough that they would have the perfect head-start once they got to the Red Sea. 

Similar to the Midnight Mass I attended.
(I left my camera at home)
God came to the world in the midst of darkness and is for it a Radiant New Dawn. And this is where I would like to pick up my experience once again. 

I went to bed Christmas Eve at 9:30pm to try and get some sleep before Mass - always a fatal error. My alarm went off at 11:30pm and I struggled to pull myself out of bed. I debated for awhile whether or not we (my wife and I) should just wait until morning. We even made a decision to just go in the morning. After about five minutes of not falling back to sleep immediately, I made the decision that we would go to Midnight Mass even if it killed us. So we did. 

We suited up and  made the five minute walk to the monastery to celebrate Mass with the Carmelite sisters. They solely make use of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, and having been there the previous year, I was expecting the lights of the chapel to be out and candles to be lighting the high altar.  As expected, I entered the chapel to the soft glow of 64 candles beautifully arranged around the altar. 

A small Christmas tree stood in the corner of the sanctuary and another larger one next to the crèche. Two small tea-lights in each window added a bit of light along the side aisles of the pews. Nevertheless, with all the candlelight it was still dark, too dark in fact to read your Baronius Press Daily Missal

It was stirring. Dark, quiet, cold - I could not have imagined a greater representation of the sort of darkness that we experience with sin. As dark and cold as it was, the altar shone with such splendid beauty that I could not help but think of my own personal need for Christ in the midst of the darkness that fills my own heart. Maybe I have hit the bottom like Pharaoh or maybe I just saw something I did not see before in the beauty of the liturgy. 

St. Augustine says:
Our heart when it rises to Him is His altar; the priest who intercedes for us is His Only-begotten; we sacrifice to Him bleeding victims when we contend for His truth even unto blood; to Him we offer the sweetest incense when we come before Him burning with holy and pious love; to Him we devote and surrender ourselves and His gifts in us; to Him, by solemn feasts and on appointed days, we consecrate the memory of His benefits, lest through the lapse of time ungrateful oblivion should steal upon us; to Him we offer on the altar of our heart the sacrifice of humility and praise, kindled by the fire of burning love.
I saw in that altar that night, a reflection of the light I need in my heart. I saw the fire of love that I lack in my own heart. In the darkness I saw my pride and selfishness.

My prayer that night was that the Sun of Justice might rise in my heart. That the darkness of sin be dispelled and that the Faith He offers us truly influence my actions. I prayed that we all, who dwell in darkness, might open our hearts to receive Him and that His light might shine on all through us.

"And night shall be no more. And they shall not need the light of the lamp, nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall enlighten them. And they shall reign for ever and ever"(Rev 22:5).

Leave me a comment about your experience of Midnight Mass. Do you attend Midnight Mass? What time is your Mass at Night and do you like that time? Why or why not?

Christmas Gift Giving and Christian Love...

A brief theology of gift...

At the heart of the Christmas experience is the gift. It moves us profoundly. John 3:16 tells us that God so loved the world that He gave us His only Son. It is not that the Son belongs to the Father, or the Holy Spirit for that matter, as if He were a possession or a slave. He cannot be given in that sense. The Father, rather allows the Son to go forth from Him so that the Son might give Himself freely to us. The way the Father 'allows' the Son to condescend to us is in-itself an act of giving.

We are said to possess that which we can freely use or enjoy as we see fit. Therefore, as Augustine says (In Joan. Tract. xxix): "What is more yours than yourself?"

A gift however, requires three things: 1) A giver, who is at the same time one who possesses that which is given and expects nothing in return; 2) that which is to be given, which is entirely and rightly possessed by the giver; and 3) a receiver, who must be open to receiving that which is freely given with no intention of returning or remunerating in some way.

To be pedantic, if I were to attempt to give a gift and the person to whom I tried to give it was unwilling to receive it, there would simply be no gift. If I were to attempt to give a gift and I expected payment for it, it would simply be a sale. If I attempted to give something that was not mine, and the person to whom I tried to give it was completely willing to receive it, the giving would be unlawful and bogus.

The only reason that would explain a thing being given in gratuity with no expectation or intention of some return is love. Here I am not speaking of some feeling or emotion, but rather, that love that impels us toward communion, namely Christian charity (caritas).

It is a love that gives of itself solely out of a desire for the good of another. It is the love that gives for another's happiness rather than one's own. It is a sacrificial love willing to give to the point of death, and it finds its source in God. St. Thomas Aquinas says, "love has the nature of a first gift, through which all free gifts are given."This first gift is God, and the Holy Spirit is His Name. St. John the Baptist tells us likewise, "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven" (Jn 3:27).

Christmas gift...

It is most appropriate that gifts be given at Christmastime, whether we give them on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or Epiphany; whether we give them, St. Nicholas or Santa Claus gives them, or the Christkind/Christ-child gives them. We each have our traditions of giving, and each is appropriate to expressing the miracle of God's gift of Himself out of gratuitous love to the world. 

Every gift giving tradition, but in particular those which emphasize the free gift (not exchange), participate in a unique way in the mysterious way that God gives and moves us in caritas to give freely with no expectation of return. 

For children, receiving a gift from the Christkind or Santa Claus on Christmas morning allows them to open their hearts to the kind of love that God has for them. St. Thérèse of Lisieux had her great conversion at Christmas. St. Thérèse committed herself to the love of Christ when she found out that that Christmas would be the last that they would receive presents. Christ's love would suffice. The relation of Christ's love to gift is incredibly tight. It is a small step between recognizing the love to recognizing Christ Himself.

For parents, giving a gift from the Christkind or Santa Claus on Christmas morning allows them to participate in that same selfless act of outpouring love that Christ performs by becoming man. St. Nicholas reminds us of this by the example of his life. St. Catherine Drexel, as well, images this gratuitous self-giving by her religious life and the exhaustion of her inheritance. Participating in the gift-giving forms in us a habit of selflessness that we ought to extend beyond our own families and into our community. 

We have to remember that we cannot give but for the grace of God, and we cannot receive were He not willing to give and give through us. 

We should not so easily forget our traditions. It is not better to eliminate Santa Claus and replace him with the Christkind. As long the we maintain our traditions there is no reason to reject them. So, if anyone tells you Santa Claus is heathen, you ought to answer with authority, "He is not.

G.K. Chesterton's thoughts...

I would like to leave you with these thoughtful words from the man himself:
What has happened to me has been the very reverse of what appears to be the experience of most of my friends. Instead of dwindling to a point, Santa Claus has grown larger and larger in my life until he fills almost the whole of it. It happened in this way. 
As a child I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation. I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking. I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it. I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them. I had not even been good–far from it. 
And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me. What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still. 
I have merely extended the idea. 
Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void. 
Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dolls and crackers, now, I thank him for stars and street faces and wine and the great sea.
Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking. Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill.
~ G.K. Chesterton, "The Other Stocking"

A Catholic blogger's meager attempt to recapture the meaning of some Christmas traditions...

As a half-German, half-Hispanic American, whose family held onto many traditions, I have a strong sense of their value. Even though many of my family's traditions may have been modified to better suit our time and needs, an emphasis was always put on our reception of what we do from our predecessors.

We do not make up the way we celebrate special occasions. What we do and how we do it has been slowly perfected over generations to be meaningful and formative. Every year around Advent we see our ancient traditions stand out. They become so overt that it seems that our entire world has changed. No other time of year can be viewed the same way.

Nevertheless, it seems that as Christians we have to fight a particular battle to try and maintain our traditions. It seems that our images, signs, and symbols have been hijacked and drained of significance. What we have been left with is a commercialized superficiality.

Our response to this attack is to avoid it. We have a knee jerk rejection of Santa Claus: It's St. Nicholas. We have a reflexive rebuff to "Happy Holidays": It's Merry Christmas. We involuntarily repudiate Christmas trees in Advent: You should have an Advent Wreath.  What we seem to do, in the end is throw out the baby with the bath water.

We avoid St. Nick any day other than Dec. 6th. We fail to wish our Jewish brothers and sisters a Happy Hanukkah (only Catholics have the Hanukkah story in their bible). We do not allow the imagery of the Christmas tree to prepare us for the celebration of Christ's Nativity.

Recapturing Meaning...

Santa Claus

Growing up I never had an issue thinking of Santa Claus as St. Nicholas. It was simply explained to me that Santa Claus was the anglicized form of the Dutch name Sinterklaas, which is itself just an abbreviated form of Sint Nikolaas. Images of the jolly ol' saint often depicted him in one of two fashions: dressed in liturgical attire or his cold weather clothing.

The Santa hat is nothing more than a derivation of the 'camauro.' Which is a red velvet winter hat with white fur trim and lining. Pope Benedict XVI himself can be seen wearing this hat on winter occasions. And Bl. John XXIII would wear one with the red velvet shoulder cape (mozzetta) with white fur trim and lining.

The imagery of St. Nick wearing red velvet and white fur, is really rooted in the traditional attire of great Churchmen, even of recent times. 
The camauro, however, is not conical and has no pom. The shape of Santa's hat comes from the pagan-Roman winter celebration of Saturnalia. In the Greco-Roman world, only free men wore the pilleus, a conical shaped hat. During celebrations of the winter solstice (Saturnalia) all people were allowed to wear the pilleus as a tribute to the god Saturn freeing them from darkness.

Many of the ancient roman symbols of Saturnalia have become associated with Christmas since, in Christ, we find their true meaning. For instance, the pilleus is associated with freedom, and Christ frees us from sin and the power of death. Saturnalia was celebrated with an abundance of candles signifying the increase in light that we experience at the winter solstice. Today, electric lights replace candles, but they still signify the increase in light that Christ brings to the world. Gift giving was a key celebration of Saturnalia and has become a central tradition of Christmas, but Christ is the Gift of gifts. His birth ushers in a new age of gifts, namely grace. 

So, St. Nicholas, who is associated with gift giving, has become a mascot of the spirit of gift giving. Should he be excluded from the celebration of Christ's Nativity as if he were a distraction from the meaningfulness of gifts and Christ, whose gift of Himself is the reason for the season? I say no. If he wants to fill my boots on Dec. 6 and my stockings on Dec. 25, so be it. If he wants to teach me about the free gift that Christ offers us with the sacrifice of Himself, by putting a box full of new socks and underwear under my Christmas tree, so be it. 

O Tannenbaum...

Wie treu sind deine Blätter. Du grunst nicht nur im Sommerzeit. Nein, auch im Winter, wenn es schneit. How loyal are your needles. You are not only green in summertime. No, also in winter, when it snows.

The fir tree (Tannenbaum) is a perduring symbol of hope and life among darkness and death. The German hymn O Tannenbaum praises the tree for its verdancy when all the other trees have lost their leaves. It is therefore most fitting that evergreen trees, not just the fir, are used to draw us closer to the mystery of Christ's birth.

The great debate is when to put up the tree. For some, they have no problem putting it up the day after Thanksgiving if they are not to busy trampling others to get the best deals on this year's electronics. For others, it is completely inappropriate to put up a Christmas tree until Christmas eve. To do so, in Advent is anathema. Some put up the Tannenbaum and spend each day leading up to Christmas placing a new Christian symbol on the tree, this they call the Jesse tree. It is a sort of compromise to avoid anathema and commercialization. And still there are others, like myself, who put the tree up at the start of Advent, put all the decorations on it, and use it to prepare for Christmas. 

The modern Christmas tree is of German origin. Its ever-greenness makes it the perfect symbol for eternal life. Germans originally decorated the tree with apples (we have replaced the apples with glass bulbs of all colors). The apples signify the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, of which Adam and Eve ate. It should also be mentioned that Christmas Eve is the commemoration of all the forefathers of Christ. It is therefore taken as the name day of Adam and Eve, and was the original day that the tree was decorated and used.

Originally, the tree was lit with real candles. God forbid we bring those fire hazards into our homes! Now, we use UL approved string lights. The candles represent two things, the light Christ brings into the world, and the stars of heaven, which remind us of the uncountable numbers of the heavenly host. So, the more lights the better. Remember that the angels appeared to the shepherds saying that Christ was born and "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to men of good will." 

It was not until the tree made its way to the United States via Great Britain and Canada that the tree began to be decorated with candy canes. A German-American from Ohio named August Imgard [there's quite a bit more about the candy cane at this link] is attributed as the first to add the sugary delights to the tree. The candy cane has two meanings as well, it represents the shepherds who were called to Christ's birthplace by the angel. Its red swirls represent the blood spilt at Christ's crucifixion, which is the reason he was born in the first place, and the white represents the virgin birth. 

And adorning the top of the tree is the star. The same star that led the magi out of the east to the place of Christ's birth. This star is placed at the top of the tree to lead us also to the place of Christ's birth.  

If we recognize this imagery, there is no reason why we should not put the tree up at the beginning of Advent. If your tree is decorated with Disney characters, maybe you ought to put it up before Advent. You are obviously not concerned with the religious nature of the tree. If you stick with just apples, maybe Christmas eve is more suitable. If you're like me, however, and you try to fill your tree with all the meaning of Christ's life, Advent is a suitable time to decorate your tree. It will not take away from your Advent wreath, but only help you prepare to with joyful expectation to receive Christ on Christmas morning. 

Let's not forget, as Catholics we get this tradition from our Lutheran brothers and sisters. So, maybe now some of you may want to forego the whole tree thing altogether...

So, what goes on your tree? When do you put it up? Does St. Nicholas only come on the 6th at your home? Leave me a comment below or send me a picture of your tree. 

Five signs that we get wrong at Mass...

For many contemporary Catholics, the Second Vatican Council is the most important, if not the only, Church Council in the history of the Church. For them, it brought the Church out of a rigorist darkness and enlightened it by its contact with modernity. If you would like to think that, you are wrong, but go ahead. I am not going to stop you.

They claim that the Church made serious progress in its liturgical reforms, which is not something I want to argue with. If, however, progress is so important - which it is when it is ordered toward some higher end than progress itself - then we ought to heed the words of C.S. Lewis. In Mere Christianity, and I am paraphrasing, Lewis writes that if you are traveling down the wrong path, progress is made by the first person to turn back.

I am not suggesting a wholesale rejection of the liturgical reforms. I am not saying that we need to return to the Mass of the early Church. What I am saying is that in order for progress to be made, we need to return to that place where we deviated from the right course.

The liturgical reforms called for a renewed simplicity of the Mass, which is to say the elimination of needless repetition. They called for a fuller and more active participation in the Mass, something I may discuss at some other time. They did not call for a 'new Mass.' What we should recognize is that the Mass, the one and only Mass of the Roman Rite, underwent a sort of plastic surgery. It got a nip here and a tuck there, and it learned a few new languages along the way, never intending to forget Her mother-tongue.

If we, as a new generation of 'progressive' Catholics are going to make any real progress, we have to stick to the 'progress' that was made by Vatican II. Unfortunately, we have veered off the right course and are lost in the woods. Progress can only be made if we return to the norms and rubrics of the Mass that came about from Vatican II's renewed (not new) liturgy.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) says:
42. Attention must therefore be paid to what is determined by this General Instruction and by the traditional practice of the Roman Rite and to what serves the common spiritual good of the People of God, rather than private inclination or arbitrary choice.
So we can put it this way, do what the GIRM says. If the GIRM is silent on a matter, refer to the traditional practice of the the Roman Rite. What we want to do does not matter.

Things we are supposed to do but don't...

Bowing of the head:

275. A bow signifies reverence and honor shown to the persons themselves or to the signs that represent them. 
a) A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saint in whose honor Mass is being celebrated.
Yes, every time Jesus name is mentioned, at any point during the Mass we are supposed to bow our heads. This also means, that when we sign ourselves with the sign of the Cross (since all three Divine Persons are named together) both at the beginning of Mass and at the end of Mass, we are supposed to bow our heads.

Bowing of the body:

b) A bow of the body, that is to say, a profound bow, is made to the altar... in the Creed at the words et incarnatus est (and by the Holy Spirit . . . and became man).
The only exception to this rule is on two specific feast days, when we do not bow at the waist but genuflect, namely the feasts of the Incarnation - Christmas and the Annunciation. As Christians, the very central doctrine of our faith is the Incarnation. Therefore, we reverence it every Mass at which the Creed is prayed with the bow of the body.

We used to genuflect twice every Mass, in reverence of this great mystery. Vatican II's reforms attempted to elevate the reverence shown on the feasts of the Incarnation by changing all other days to bows. What happened instead is that people stopped bowing. We need to regain this for the sake of progress.

Striking the breast:

The Order of the Mass calls for us to strike our breast during the Confiteor (I confess to almighty God...):
I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters, that i have greatly sinned,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what i have done and in what i have failed to do,
and, striking their breast, they say:
through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault;
then they continue:
therefore i ask blessed mary ever-Virgin, all the angels and saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the lord our God. 
In the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, this rubric, "and, striking their breast..." reads, "and, striking the breast three times..." In which case, we would invoke GIRM 42 and say that traditional practice is three strikes, and no specific number is given so we should continue the practice of three. With regard to this number, however, clarification was given in 1978:
87. Query: During the recitation of certain formularies, for example, the "Confiteor, Agnus Dei, Domine, non sum dignus," the accompanying gestures on the part of both priest and people are not always the same: some strike their breast three times; others, once during such formularies. What is the lawful practice to be followed?
Reply: In this case it is helpful to recall:
1. gestures and words usually complement each other;
2. in this matter as in others the liturgical reform has sought authenticity and simplicity, in keeping with SC art. 34: "The rites should be marked by a noble simplicity." Whereas in the Roman Missal promulgated by authority of the Council of Trent meticulous gestures usually accompanied the words, the rubrics of the Roman Missal as reformed by authority of Vatican Council II are marked by their restraint with regard to gestures. This being said: a. The words, "Through my own fault" in the "Confiteor" are annotated in the reformed Roman Missal with the rubric: "They strike their breast" ("Ordo Missae" no. 3). In the former Missal at the same place the rubric read this way: "He strikes his breast three times." Therefore, it seems that the breast is not to be struck three times by anyone in reciting the words, whether in Latin or another language, even if the tripled formulary is said ("mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa"). One striking of the breast is enough. 
(Not 14 (1978) 534-535, no. 10.)
So, regardless of traditional practice and for the sake of noble simplicity, whether we like it or not, the rule is one strike for three "mea culpas."

Things we are not supposed to do but do...

Making the sign of the Cross:

An almost ubiquitous practice of making the sign of the cross at one particular point in the Mass seems to have cropped up without good reason. Almost all of us do it or have done it. Following the same penitential act, when we fail to strike the breast at all, we make the sign of the cross for no good reason. There is no rubric anywhere nor at anytime that has ever read "making the sign of the cross the priest says... May almighty God have mercy..."

What seems to have happened is that the Extraordinary form, when it was the only form in use had us make the sign of the Cross during the Indulgentium, which is no longer a part of the rite. It has been dropped in its entirety. What remains is the small prayer prior to the Indulgentium, which is called the Misereatur. Ignorant people knew that a sign of the cross was made after the Confiteor but did not know that that same sign was associated with a specific prayer. So, when the new order of the Mass was promulgated, they kept making a sign of the cross after the Confiteor even though the Indulgentium was omitted completely. 

If you want to make the sign of the cross more, just go to Mass in the Extraordinary Form. There is simply no reason for it to be made in the Ordinary Form during the Misereatur.

Holding hands or using the Orans posture:

The vast majority of dioceses in the US have adopted one of these two postures during the Lord's Prayer. It, however, ought not to be done. There is no posture given for us to adopt during the Pater Noster nor is there any traditional practice of any other posture. In the Extraordianry Form of the Mass, in fact, the congregation is silent for the entire prayer until the words, "sed libera nos a malo (but deliver us from evil)."

If you will notice, all those places where the priest prays on behalf of the people are the same places that the priest adopts the Orans posture (hands apart and palms up). The Lord's Prayer, as I have just said, used to be prayed by the priest alone, and therefore, he used to adopt the Orans posture. It seems more of an accidental holdover then anything that he is still given the directive to adopt this posture, since everyone prays the Pater Noster together. 

In 1975, some clarification was given on the practice of holding hands during the Lord's Prayer. It was said that the holding of hands during the Our Father was not found in the rubrics and was meant as a sign of peace, but that there was another place designated for the sign of peace. Doing this takes away from the sign of peace that immediately follows the Lord's Prayer, and therefore, it should not be done.