Episode Four: Introibo ad altare Dei
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The bells had begun in Oceania and clarioned across global time zones. The Day of the Dead had arrived. It had been agreed, less than 24 hours after the horrendous tragedy on the Field of Abraham that there would be a universal day of mourning on November 6th. All funerals would simultaneously be held on that day.
The funeral for the Governor General of Australia had already been held in Canberra. In the South Pacific the king of Western Samoa had been interred beneath the palms in Honoiara. South Koreans were shrouded in sadness as they said goodbye to their President, entombed in a freshly cemented monument in Seoul. Muslim citizens of Jakarta had still not disbursed from the public square where they had praised and mourned the President of Indonesia. In Thailand, hordes of Buddhists packed the Palace Square of Bangkok, mourning their king. In the great square of Beijing, a military show of force and might had marked the funeral of the Vice Chairman of China. In the foothills of the Himalayas Hindus were just gathering at the temple in Katmandu for the funeral of the king of Nepal.
Subsequent scenes were in preparation throughout the globe; in the Mideast, Europe and Africa. In the Western Hemisphere it was the eve of the funeral ceremonies in Washington D.C. for the Secretary of State. There would be a special tribute to the slain Congressmen and Secret Service personnel at the same time, but individual funerals for the politicians would be held in their respective home states on November 7th. America had always been known for doing things differently and the funeral events would be no different from that philosophy. In many cities of South America unrest ran so high that militia had been summoned to conduct funerals for various heads of state who had perished in Iraq.
The wailing sounds of Islamic mourning echoed throughout the Mideast as the populace prepared for the funerals of the Ayatollah in Tehran, the Sultan of Brunei in Bandar Seri Begawan, the President of Lebanon in Beirut, and the President of Turkey in Ankara. There the Sunni followers overflowed the Mosque.
Europe this day would bury the Prime Minister of England, the Presidents of France and Greece, the Chancellor of Germany, Russia's Vice Premier, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, the Prime Ministers from Austria, Poland, and Slovenia, the King of Norway, various princes of Spain, the Princess of Denmark and His Highness of Liechtenstein. In Rome the caissons would be standing at the ready to escort the Vice President of Italy in procession.
While all these funerals were of importance to the respective citizens of their countries, the global aspect of a Papal funeral would garner the most attention. The window of the world was focused on St. Peter's and the packed Square. There was hardly an inch of space anywhere. All roads lead to Rome and this morning they had confluenced at the end of the Via della Concilliazione, pouring into the great Square. The funeral was still four hours away and the Square was already full.
The peal of requiem bells had awakened the trio slumbering on the hard stone surface of a dank, dungeon-like room on the third floor of the northwest turret guarding the ancient Castel Sant'Angelo.
The tintinnabulation of the trials and travails of the past week had taken their toll on all in this room. Despite the biting November chill, a warmth had mysteriously or, perhaps, mystically enveloped the inhabitants of this abandoned chamber, shrouded in the warmth of angelic wings. The wind could not reach them, nor, for the moment could the devil whose radar had been chaffed by last night's tornadic events.
Few were aware that Cardinal Gregory Zachmunn, substantially recovered from his diabetic attack several hours before, had taken the privilege of celebrating Holy Mass in the Pope's Sacristy off the Pope's Private Chapel at 5:30 a.m. To have used the latter would have been too risky. Therefore, the doors to the Sacristy had been secured, buttressed by a sturdy sedilium chair Stephen had dragged across the room lest any might invade this sacred time. The door to the secret tunnel from which they had entered the night before remained open in case they had to exit quickly.
Stephen had awakened at 5 a.m. and had entered the ancient tunnel, ascending the circular stairs to the Papal closet where he had respectfully and discreetly alerted Sister Bridie that Mass would be at 5:30 in the Sacristy.
Fr. Niki Andriopoulos and Patrick Gallagher were not aware that Cardinal Zachmunn and the Monsignor had been resting as comfortably as possible on a hastily prepared mattress of vestments and albs laid out on opposite ends of the floor of the Papal Sacristy, while Sister Bridie had slept on the sofa in the Papal Apartments.
For this loyal nun it had been an eerie sense of security for never had she been allowed to remain within the Papal Quarters unless more than two accompanied her., never at night - even when the Pope was not present. Now she was alone with her thoughts in this private residence of the Pope - the same room the holy Pontiffs such as St. Pius X had occupied. The awe both overpowered and inspired her.
One tradition had remained. At the announcement of the Pope's death, the light in his quarters was lit and would remain so until after his funeral. Despite the light, for Sister Bridie sleep had come easily as well as her awakening at 4:30 a.m. Habit does that for those who have never abandoned the wearing and meaning of the habit of her order.
She occupied her time in prayer as well as staying behind the curtains to avoid detection for the lights had been turned on in the Papal bedroom since the announcement of his death. From the cover of the drape she had surveyed the scene developing in St. Peter's Square where mourners below had been huddling next to each other seeking warmth. The more the Square filled, the warmer the hearts in correlation with the multiplication of human windbreakers. She had promptly showed in the Sacristy before 5:30 a.m. Cardinal Zachmunn had recovered, with a renewed, yet cautious and paced vigor that seemed to have gained more strength and courage during the celebratory propitiatory sacrifice
After applying the much-needed shaver Dr. Ghislieri had left, both the Cardinal and Stephen properly refreshed in the water closet off the Sacristy. The vestments had been carefully gathered from the floor and re-hung, save for the white vestment to celebrate the continual sacrifice in celebrating the Mass within the Octave of All Saints while commemorating the historical feast of St. Leonard of Limoges. The irony was not lost on Gregory that this hermit saint of the Franks was the patron saint of prisoners of war. Indeed, those resisters within the Sacristy and in the chamber at Castel Sant'Angelo were prisoners of war - a deadly war against the Principalities and Powers of Lucifer himself.
Stephen had no trouble finding a surplice in order to serve the Mass. Though the three in the Sacristy had not had a thing to eat in almost 24 hours, the nourishment of the Body and Blood of Christ sustained them. They knew such provender would surely be needed for what lay ahead.
Dateline: Rome - Castel Sant'Angelo - November 6, 6:00 a.m.
So also on the eastern end of the same tunnel within the Hadrian Wall where Niki had awakened, spending those early minutes in prayer to prepare himself for the day while Pat snored away, oblivious to the conditions around him and within him. So deeply asleep had he been that Niki had to resort to shaking him awake. Cruel, yes, but necessary. Heroic virtue does not always call for a good night's sleep.
"Good morning, Patrick." Niki's salutary greeting was met with a gruff snort as Pat sought to deny the reality of morning, begging for more time in the realm of dreams. His Greek friend would have no more denial. "Patrick, we have much to accomplish and so little time. You must wake now."
"You sure enjoy mornings," Pat groused, realizing he had no choice. Reality had reentered.
"I enjoy life - and I think you'll agree, Patrick, after the last few days, you do too!"
"Yeah, we've had our share of close calls, Nik." The memories flooded back into Gallagher's conscience. "I'm just prayin' he can, too," as Pat gestured toward the Pope slumped against the wall where Niki had already moved to his side.
"Your Holiness, can you hear me?" Niki gently touched the Pontiff's unshaven face.
A weak, raspy plea formed on his parched lips. "Water--"
"Great," Pat retorted, "just what we don't have. Food and water."
"No," Niki advised, "but we do have bread and water."
"Hell, I didn't know that," a stunned Pat shot back. "Are you keeping somethin' from me?"
"No, for you." Niki calmly replied as he pulled off his shirt to reveal a waterproof packet strapped to his side.
"You can't have much food in there, Nik." Pat skepticism played on his visual senses.
"Enough for all of us. True Manna," Niki affirmed. "This is not just any food, my friend. The Bread of Life, or it will be."
"I don't get it," was Pat's perplexing response as Niki stood and unpacked the pouch around his neck, placing the contents from his Mass kit on a two-foot wide stone ledge about four-feet off the floor.
"You will, Patrick. Ah, perfect." Niki was setting up a small altar, unfolding three Mass cards and a small collapsible chalice which accordioned out. He placed a small half-inch high by three-inch square altar stone relic, which he also had in his satchel. Situating these things on the ledge, he then laid out three white cloths on the makeshift altar and a small flat paten on the altar stone, along with his dog-eared missal. "Pat, may I borrow your lighter please?"
Pat rose to his feet and offered his lighter as Niki lit two small three-inch high beeswax votive candles. "You're going to say Mass here?" Pat didn't yet see the significance.
Niki retrieved a white stole and maniple from his pack, kissed both reverently and slipped the latter onto his arm, then the stole around his neck, and finally unfolded a small chasuble to match. "Yes, my friend. The Holy Father needs nourishment and I can think of nothing more nourishing than the Holy Viaticum."
Despite his greatly weakened state, Pope Clement XV was conscious enough, aware enough to nod his affirmation. If one could have clearly seen the Pope's pupils up close one would have seen them dancing with joy. A true disciple rejoices in the presence of the True Presence for it remained the fulfillment, the sustenance of our Lord's charge Haec quotiescumque feceritis, in Mei memoriam facietis - 'As often as ye do these things, ye shall do them in remembrance of Me.'
Dateline: Vatican City - Papal Sacristy - November 6, 6:10 a.m.
As Niki intoned the Latin words to "I will go in unto the altar of God - "Introibo ad altare Dei," Cardinal Zachmunn was just completing the Last Gospel, taken from the first chapter of the Book of St. John. The American archbishop then genuflected for the "Et Verbum caro factum est." Shortly, Stephen responded with "Deo Gratias" and the Mass was finished. After he led Stephen and Sister Bridie in the Leonine Prayers, the Cardinal quickly unvested. "I want to express my sincere gratitude to both of you for your love and kindness last night," Zachmunn said, smiling at these two faithful ones.
"Sister, I hope you slept well," the Cardinal acknowledged.
"I be fine. As well as one could be under these circumstances, your Eminence."
"Sister," Stephen interjected, "the Cardinal wants you to return to the Papal quarters to hide for now."
"You be thinkin' that be safe?"
"As safe as anywhere else right now," Stephen assured.
"Then I be goin' where you wish. N' your Eminence, after last night, I mean, will you be okay?"
"Yes, Dr. Ghislieri was marvelous. I can't begin to thank you enough for your fast thinking. And you, Sister, a true angel."
"Sure n' you had us scared, you did, your Eminence."
"I must admit I was a bit scared myself, Sister. I'm not afraid to die, but I believe God still has a few things He wants me to do before He takes me home. Speaking of which, Stephen, I need to talk with you privately."
"I be understandin', your Eminence. Thank you for Holy Mass. I be knowin' the way. Also, I not be fearin' that awful Cardinal Macelli any more."
"Just stay low until we contact you, Sister," Stephen insisted cautiously.
"That I will," the Irish nun assured as she disappeared into the tunnel and back toward the Papal Quarters.
Cardinal Zachmunn's smile turned deadly serious once she had exited. "Stephen, we need to keep the Papal coffin and all the coffins out of St. Peter's."
"I figured that was what you wanted to talk about. I'm trying to figure how we can do that without alarming the masses," Stephen admitted.
"Yes, I can appreciate that, my son, but we may have to..."
"But the funeral is in less than four hours, your Eminence."
"True, and the pall-bearers will be gathering in the Pauline Hall in less than three hours. They will be removing the Papal Bier to the Sala Regia where the College will be gathered to accompany the coffin into St. Peter's after all the other coffins have been brought in. The procession should last at least half an hour, maybe 45 minutes."
"Well, your Eminence, Cardinal Macelli has said this is not a time for tradition."
"Yes, I know, we discussed that."
"No, I mean, what if we broke with that tradition and formed a Papal Escort from the modern Pauline Hall instead of near the Sistine Chapel?"
"I'm afraid, Stephen, I'm not following."
"I can appreciate that because I'm not sure myself, but it's worth a try." The Monsignor pulled from his pocket an instrument Providence had provided for this very day for all who would be in harm's way. "It's a wild idea, but it might be possible, your Eminence, if--" Stephen hesitated before Cardinal Zachmunn encouraged him to share his thoughts.
"I'm listening. After what we have been through, nothing can be too wild, Stephen."
"I have this," Navarro hesitated as he realized the envelope he had found in the basement. "Last night in the basement, I found this in the broken pieces of the statue."
He handed the aged and sealed envelope to Gregory.
The Cardinal recognized the seal immediately. "His Holiness Pius XII!"
His eyes lit up as he held it up to the light. "Definitely the Papal Signet Seal of Papa Pacelli."
"Do we dare open it, your Eminence?"
"Do we dare not?" countered Zachmunn. "But first tell me your plan."
Stephen nodded and began to lay out a scenario that on the surface was so bizarre, so impossible that were one to lay odds this morning, one might have overwhelmed the bookies at Monte Carlo and Las Vegas. However, when all seems lost, that is when trust and faith take over...bolstered by more than just a little ingenuity.
Dateline: Rome - Castel Sant'Angelo - November 6, 6:25 a.m.
Niki held the Host between his thumbs and forefingers before Him, bowing reverently over the paten on the two-foot wide slab as he quietly whispered the words that Christ said at the Last Supper when He instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist: For this is My Body - "Hoc est enim corpus Meum."
Fr. Andriopoulos paused for only a few seconds, but to the Heavenly chorus gathered in this small, rugged room in the rampart, time was suspended. In this mystical moment a pure white Dove was released from the Father's hands; the wings of the Spirit opened, emanating a mystical prism of light reflecting off the small Hosts on the paten, beaming back and enshrouding first Father Andriopoulos, then Pope Clement XV and Pat in a golden glow that caught them up in a suspended radiance enveloped within the Awe of the Triune Divinity. With the naked eye one could see nothing. With the eyes of grace there were no limits to the brilliance of the Church Triumphant's fiat that blinded sin in an array of eternal effulgence at this very moment.
As Niki reverently genuflected, he could sense the celestial corps in attendance. Yet he was not conscious that, at that moment, he would be infused with an even stronger inner zeal to muster the few valiant ones available within the Church Militant. It would be needed to fend off all that Lucifer would launch this day and the next. The Communion of Saints would be tested more than at any time in salvation history. It was so deigned. So be it. God would provide.
Meticulously the Greek priest elevated the Sacred Host, held so delicately in his thumbs and forefingers. Devoutly he raised It above his head for both the Holy Father and Pat to see and adore. The love poured forth from an unending array of unseen Angels who had prostrated themselves before the True Presence of the King of Kings. To these heavenly beings the sublime mystery of the Transubstantiation was clearly visible, sparkling more than the rarest, priceless of diamonds. For all finite beings only their faith revealed the True Presence of Christ in the Sacred Host held aloft by Father Niki.
The greatly weakened Pontiff was a study in the true essence of the servant of the servants - the Vicar of Christ. In humility and with great effort he kept his eyes fixed on the Sacred Mystery - one so sublime that, when said in the manner and ritual the Church had infallibly set in stone, it transcended time and all finite understanding. The moment had arrived. For the first time in his long, storied ecclesial life he had seen the Mystery and understood with a fullness of heart this most sublime moment of the Holy Mass - the Prayers of Consecration in the Canon of the Mass - as if seeing for the first time a glimpse of the Beatific Vision. He understood in his mind's eye implicitly why nothing was more beautiful this side of Heaven, nothing was more awesome, more pure than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in its unadulterated Latin Rite.
Clement XV was caught up in the mystical moment as Fr. Niki placed the Host back on the paten. At the moment he pronounced the words the unleavened bread became the actual body - the flesh of Christ, soul and divinity though still under the appearance of bread.
Genuflecting, he followed immediately in like manner - simili modo - the consecration of the wine. This Greek alter Christus repeated the exact words which confected the wine into the Blood of Christ with the words, said in a low, almost inaudible tone in the Mother tongue of the Church of Peter: "Hic est enim calix sanguinis Mei; novi et aeterni testamenti; mysterium fidei; qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum."
The words shouted salvation and the angels rejoiced for truly the Latin words for 'For this is the Chalice of My blood of the new and eternal testament; the Mystery of Faith; which shall be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins' re-enacted the Mystery that forever gained merit for the baptized believer through the ultimate sacrifice of the immolated Lamb of God. The mystical luminous essence melded with the blood and water and fused into an ethereal ecstasy of pure Love. Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity.
These very precise and necessary words of Transubstantiation had been repeated countless times throughout the world for nearly 2000 years, that is, until the Vatican II popes had veered from tradition, had violated the Pontifical oath and the infallible warnings of past Popes.
For any historian looking back on the last four decades of the 20th century and the first decade of the new millennium, he or she would deduce the obvious.
The Vatican II popes had discarded such wisdom, such sound doctrine by allowing innovation, novelty and blasphemy to enter the Holy of Holies. Because those, who opted for a 'better idea,' had let down their guard, because they had altered the unchangeable, they knowingly or unknowingly allowed entry by the Devil. With the Almighty having withdrawn His graces, the situation only worsened.
Biblical history had repeated itself as a hard-hearted, stubborn people had decided they knew better. The ship had been left to wander, drifting aimlessly in a sea of ambiguity and confusion - true chaos. This had only led to the very situation which had ushered in the events caused by the Legion of the Basilisk. That pretty much summed up the 50 years of what modern Rome had spun as aggiornamento - the "new springtime."
But Eternal Rome, though subjugated to the catacombs through persecution and intimidation, was very much alive and blessed this day at both ends of the Leonine Wall.
Heaven had given Clement a reprieve. Time was waning. Yes, it had come to this where the stricken Sovereign Pontiff lay weaker by the moment, yet nourished and strengthened interiorly by the Mysterium fidei. Only God knew the particulars. All man had to go on was faith. For those who believed, that was enough. In this insignificant room the most significant event in history was happening.
Pat did not realize the impact this very moment would have on him, on Corrie, on the entire human race. God knew, but then He is almighty. He knows all. He also knew the heart of Clement XV this November morning and was pleased at the restoration of his resolve.
As Niki continued with the Prayers after the Consecration, including the commemoration of the dead Memento and the invocation of the saints leading up to the minor elevation, the room filled with an unlimited number of unseen choirs of angels. They were there, as they were for every True Mass. Whether the Holy Sacrifice was said on the high altar of a cathedral or in the crude environment of this room, they were always present to give total adoration to God. In harmony with the priest and those assisting at Mass, they encouraged the ultimate Gift of the Son to the Father in the reenactment of the consummate sacrifice on Golgotha.
Any enemy worth their salt knows the weaknesses of their opposition. One quality could not be penetrated fully by the infernal foe: that undying faith in the salvific sacrifice of Calvary reenacted in an unbloody manner. When prayed with a humble, sincere heart and in the language of Latin - so hated by Satan and elevated by the saints - there was no force more powerful on the face of this earth. Such was the unfettering power of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in combating the World, the Flesh and the Devil.
Dateline: Rome - On approach into Fiumicino Airport - November 6, 6:35 a.m.
The low rising eastern sun shot off the cockpit window as the private jet made its final approach into Fiumicino. Edwin Blix had been awake for the past few hours, communicating with various sources, keeping abreast of all he controlled. That which he governed was far greater than any human being could imagine.
He had seemed pleased when Ans Soto delivered poached eggs, toast and orange slices on fine china. Jordan Collier had wolfed down the same, much to Edwin's disgust. Disgust is all Corrie could feel as she struggled with her feelings. Hate swelled within, surging toward the surface and still she suppressed it as best she could. Collier had escorted her to the lavatory where she was able to finally gain some privacy. Yet, even here she felt watched. Perhaps it was the small lens peering back at her above the toilet. The scope of its focus did not include the commode or anyone near the commode. However, all activities at the sink were visible to whomever was monitoring these cameras. It made her shiver as she stared into the mirror trying to muster the courage to resist at the right time. How could she have gotten herself into such a mess, into such straits? Love. Love for Pat and, yes, love for God. She was slowly coming to the realization that the right priority was her Creator first, Pat second! However, the renaissance of her concern for the Infinite had not diminished her feelings for the very finite love of her life.
Standing at the sink, mesmerized by her own transient and mussed image in the mirror, exaggerated by her day-old make-up, she wondered how anyone could love her. She thought back to how she had pondered all the cosmetics she had and how futile these face-saving facades were in the overall picture. She tried to recollect her thoughts, mentally map out her escape or, at the very least, stay a step ahead of the demons who were escorting her to Rome. Would she find Pat? Would she be able to warn him of Blix's intent? Questions swirled within as the warning buzzer above alerted her that they would be landing soon, that she must take her seat.
Reluctantly she left the safe confines of the private cubicle. There at the door was the blanched, soulless face of Jordan Collier waiting to escort her back to her seat, to cuff her to the chair. Without resisting, she complied in robotic form. Collier, standing behind the seat, pulled the belt tight against her waist, almost delighting in her grimace as he purposely allowed his wrists and lower arms to nudge and stay on her breasts while he pretended to be helping to loosen her seat belt. The thought of him, anyone on this plane, touching her in any way, sickened her.
Blix said nothing, refusing even to acknowledge her presence as he stared straight ahead. He had other things on his mind. Collier fell back just in time to buckle himself as the wheels thumped the runway, then lifted a few feet and then another thud that jerked the passengers as the jet found pavement, swayed, and began screeching to a halt. The bumpy landing played on Corrie's stomach, teasing a nauseating feeling that she stifled by holding her breath until the plane slowed to a taxiing pace.
From her vantage point she could see one who looked exactly like Ans standing on the tarmac next to a black stretch limo. She had to do a double-take to make sure it wasn't Ans. Blix's observation confirmed the obvious.
"Ah, there's Soto now. Well, y'all, we're right on schedule. All is goin' accordin' to Hoyle. Yes, indeedy." He was absolutely giddy in satanic delight. Corrie gave silent thanks she wasn't seated any closer to him for surely she would have been singed by the hellish heat of this man, this beast.
Dateline: Vatican City - Office of the Camerlengo - November 6, 6:40 a.m.
"They are in Rome now. All have arrived for the splendid ritual at the Pantheon," a nervous Macelli informed the Vicar General and Archpriest of the Basilica Cardinal Josef Vendhem in a whisper before they both approached the sterile German nun Elena Grabe and Luciani Serrano, who also had also been summoned to the Camerlengo's office.
Grabe had overheard. "Then they will not be attending the funeral either, Lord Macelli?" Elena was brusque, knowing the answer to her question.
"No," Antonio curtly replied. "We must join them for Lord Vendhem will be the celebrant, but we have to clean up here first."
"The damages?" Vendhem inquired rudely. "What is the final tally?"
"Four guards dead including Guillaume." Macelli admitted, hating any questions from Vendhem.
"They will rue the day," Luciani cursed, obviously riled over the death of his friend Brunatti.
"Yes, they will," agreed Vendhem, "but if you let emotion rule you, they will sense that. We cannot show our Achilles heel to them. Ever! Do you hear?" The German cardinal was in Lucio's face, making an example for the sake of both Macelli and Grabe, both of whom had made grave errors in carrying out their duties for the Master.
"We will be ready," Macelli answered, trying to assure Vendhem, yet with a blend of loathing and grave concern in his voice.
"Any word on the night intruders?" Vendhem inquired, as if again knowing the obvious answer.
"None." Grabe answered in a low tone. "They have vanished into thin air."
"I doubt that, Elena," Vendhem rebuked. "The Master is definitely not pleased. Four of ours failed while four of theirs escaped. I would not call that successful, would you, fraulein?" The Archpriest of the Basilica was livid and not hiding it. His veins in his long, craggy face bulged. "I must go make preparations for the funeral and assure our guards are in place. I trust you will carry on in a responsible manner, Lord Cardinal Macelli?" He was still staring at Grabe.
"Si. Prego." It was evident the Italian prelate was intimidated. Not so Elena Grabe who dared to look Vendhem in the eye.
It didn't faze the German cardinal. "Das gutt. Fortsetzen, Frau Grabe."
She didn't budge, fixing her steely eyes at Vendhem. Without taking his eyes off her glare he asked, "I vunder if the Master really desires that Elena prepare the main meal, Antonio."
Macelli directed his question to Grabe. "You have the trigger?"
"Ja voll, Herr Macelli und Vendhem," she huffed, revenge roiling in her veins.
"Bene. You are to remain here. I will let you know when to squeeze it."
Vendhem was not convinced. "Do not fail this time. It is your last."
"I vill not fail, Herr Josef. And neither will you. Are we understood?" Elena was ready for his superiority games, tired of this treatment by the weakling species of man.
"Perfectly," Macelli complied if only to be rid of this Teutonic wench. "I have instructed the sisters under my control to make ready for the new Pope."
"Then," Vendhem icily inquired, "they will see to the distribution of the candles?"
"Well, then," Vendhem concluded, "we have our assignments. Now we prepare for the Master's entrance soon." He intoned in a deep guttural timbre, "We pledge our loyalty to the master. We pledge our lives to make his reign possible. We are the Legion."
In unison they intoned in staccato reverberation, "Long live the Basilisk."
With that they scattered. Vendhem and Macelli flowed out into the corridor, escorted by two Swiss Guards; Serrano and Grabe went the other way towards the Papal Quarters. Elena was positive the Papal Ring was inside the Pope's Apartment. With all the keys she had been given, surely one of them would open the front door.
As they walked Elena gambled that she could trust the burly Italian Luciani Serrano.
"Dear Luciani, the Master has chosen an alternate agenda," she tested him. "Unbeknownst to Vendhem and Macelli, we vill, of course, excuse ourselves from the procession and funeral. We vill have a limo waiting to rush us away from this hideous place."
"We will not wait for the funeral or Conclave?" Serrano was not aware of the alternative plans.
"No. That is useless I fear, Luciani," Grabe confided. "Rather, the Master has decided to strike during the funeral. The votes last night in General Congregation did not go as the Master had planned.
Those cardinals who assured the Master of victory have come up empty. Therefore we resort to the failsafe method." A wicked smile creased her lips.
"Do you not fear those who eluded us last night?" a skeptical Serrano inquired.
"That is why we must strike today before they can regroup," Elena reasoned. "If they are scattered they cannot gain strength."
"And what of Macelli, Vendhem, and the Legion guards?" Serrano's voice betrayed his confusion at being left out of the loop.
Luciani's jaw dropped. Was the Master willing to sacrifice the man who was to be the next Pope? A double-cross was in the works and Serrano was caught in the middle. "I am afraid, Luciani, that dear Josef and Antonio have become too ambitious. The Master is not pleased how they have treated we who work in the trenches, do his dirty work for him. We shall have our day, Herr Serrano."
* * * * * * *
While the pride of these two nefarious souls swelled and plotted, humility and meekness of heart were the focus of three other souls bathed in the mystical lumen of grace in the isolated room on the northwest side of Castel Sant'Angelo's walls.
After Father Niki had broken the Sacred Host and thoroughly placed the particles into the Chalice, and consumed the Sacrament in both species, he turned, facing both the stricken Pontiff and Pat Gallagher. Holding the Sacred Host above the Sacred Blood, the Greek priest intoned in Latin "Domine non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum; sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea." He repeated these words three times, taken from the words of the trusting centurion of the New Testament whose faith in Christ signified all, "Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof; say but the word and my soul shall be healed."
Reverently Niki approached Pope Clement XV, holding a particle of the Sacred Host, saying "Corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternam. Amen." These words, said before every communicant receives Holy Communion remained a simple reminder of the salvific essence of this fulfillment of the Sacred Mystery of the Altar - "The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve thy soul unto life everlasting. Amen."
After reciting these words Niki placed the Holy Eucharist on the Pope's tongue, then offered him the Sacred Chalice. Pat helped the Holy Father prop up so he could take the cup and sip just a little. Then Niki, after bowing to kiss the Fisherman's Ring, reached back on the makeshift altar and retrieved a small vial of water, gently pouring it into the Pontiff's mouth.
"I am sorry, your Holiness, that is all I can provide for now."
In a barely audible, raspy voice Clement XV smiled, "This Gesu - migliore - molto bene, grazie - I can ask for nothing better."
Niki then turned to Pat with the final Host, beginning the prayer "Corpus Domini nostri--"
Pat gently, embarrassingly interrupted. "Hey, Father Nik, I appreciate it and all. But I've been away for years. I need to go to confession. Got an hour?"
Niki looked into his eyes and in a kind, loving voice simply said, "Then, my honest American friend, we shall preserve this for you to receive later." With that he quickly blessed Gallagher and turned back to the ledge where he placed the consecrated Host in a small crystal lunette, which he put inside a compact gold pyx, a precious and priceless receptacle for the Ark of the Covenant.
While he was finishing up the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with the ablutions, Blix, Collier, the Ichariak twins and Corrie were motoring toward the city in the stretch limo. No one said a word as the sun rose higher in the east against the backdrop of a rose hued mauve-colored sky. Red sky at night, sailor's delight; red sky in the morning, sailor take warning. Indeed the signs were the omen of what lay ahead this day.
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