Afternoon slowly went by. Nervously, Cardinal Fratelli paced in the parlor. Hot sun streaked through the windows. Wiping a bead of sweat from his forehead, he smiled. This evening was the beginning of the Sacred Triduum: the three days before Easter Sunday when Jesus’s last moments on earth would be relived. Such an exciting and busy time! Fratelli could hardly wait.
“Your Eminence,” Dina said coming into the room, “Please get something to eat.”
“Oh, yes, yes!” he replied.
Though his mind focused on other things than food, he hastily went to lunch, sat down before a bowl of grapes and picked at them. Rodrigo entered, Gianni trailed behind. The boy helped himself to bread and a heaping knife-full of butter.
“Don’t take so much!” Rodrigo rebuked.
Sheepishly, Gianni scooped some butter back as Philomena appeared. She sat across from the cardinal, her dainty fingers choosing a grape and popping it into her mouth. Anxiously, Fratelli realized he must tell her, sooner or later about Lamberto D’Costanza’s letter- and his intentions. He fidgeted, put both hands under the table and toyed with his ring. Rodrigo noticed but said nothing.
Very reluctant, Fratelli followed Philomena back in the parlor after they’d finished eating. She turned around immediately and asked:
“What is it?”
“You and I…need to talk.”
“If this is about me coming back to the church and going to Mass…”
“No,” Fratelli replied, resting in a chair by the window, “Though I would like to discuss that very much, I need to tell you about Easter. Our plans have changed. Instead of dining at Francine’s house, we have been invited to a rather large feast…at the palace of the duke.”
“Really?” she replied excitedly, putting her hands together, “I have never been there before. Oh, it will be so wonderful and luxurious!”
Quietly, wearing a nervous expression, the cardinal shut the door. Philomena eyed him strangely, dreading what he would say next.
He spoke, forcing the words out:
“Philomena, you don’t have to go along with this but I must tell you that Lamberto II, the duke’s son…wishes to court you.”
Then he glanced away, slowly, slightly returning his gaze. Surprisingly, Philomena didn’t seemed shocked or upset as she only shrugged. Smiling, she responded, “I was getting tired of Carlo anyway. He’s too quiet and it annoys me when you have to guess what a man’s thinking- but Lamberto II, I feel so honored! They say he is outgoing and dashing.”
Fratelli groaned. He had been expecting a different reaction.
Evening shadows finally fell. Townspeople bustled through the square and crowded into the cathedral. Bell loudly rang in the air. The Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper had begun. Fratelli, donned in rich violet vestments and a white miter, processed across the long aisle. Fratelli, donned in rich white vestments and a plain miter, processed across the long aisle. The beautiful, violet vestments were retired. When time came for Fratelli to give his homily, he momentarily fell silent, his thoughts dizzily circling. At once, he collected the thoughts and stuffed them elsewhere in his mind. He preached smoothly, concluding in proud voice:
“Seek Christ in the bread of life. He says “Come unto me all who are weary and heavy-laden and I shall give you rest.” In his offering to mankind, he gives life, by his death, life. At the supper before his death, he verily did tell the disciples: “This is my body- this is my life. I give myself to each of you.”.”
Rather than displaying gladness over his finished sermon, Fratelli expressed anxiety. Once a year came a ritual he didn’t savor much: the one night when Lucca’s bishop would wash the feet of twelve townsmen in imitation of Christ at the Last Supper. Of course, he reminded himself, he was Lucca’s bishop. He ignored creeping dread as he removed his beautiful vestments and walked, clad in a bare, white robe, towards the altar where twelve men stood. They waited- and so did their dirty feet. He could just see how ugly and calloused they were!
Rodrigo, standing to the right, handed him a soaking wet rag. Gulping back pride, he knelt as the first man lifted his foot, placing it in his hand. Fratelli washed methodically one pair of feet after another, soon forgetting his humiliation and instead pondering what it felt like for the Lord of all creation to be there in his place. Jesus surely was far greater than he, a perfect being, and yet subjected himself to most harrowing debasement. Sighing, standing back up, he whispered a thanksgiving.
Did Fratelli truly realize how much of his life drew from God? Could he perceive just how God lowered himself? For them? For him? The thought of it made him tremble throughout the solemn prayers, tremble before the sacred host as he lifted it high. This was His body given up for all men- His life.