Maria Candida of the Eucharist (1884-1949)
Maria Barba’s family home was in Palermo, Sicily. However, Pietro Barba’s work as a Judge in the Appeal Court took the family briefly to Catanzaro in Italy and it was there that Maria Barba was born on the 16th January 1884. The deeply-religious family returned to Palermo when she was two years old.
From the age of fifteen Maria felt called to Religious Life but her family strongly opposed this; she had to wait for twenty years before she could fulfill her calling. During these years of waiting she suffered interiorly but showed a remarkable strength of spirit and fidelity to her calling, unusual in one so young. Her trials were to last until she entered the Teresian Carmel, Ragusa, on 25th September 1919. During this time she was sustained by a special devotion to the Eucharist, in which she saw the mystery of the sacramental presence of God in the world, the concrete symbol of His infinite love of humanity, and the reason for our trust in His promises.
Her love for the Eucharist was evident from the very beginning. “When I was still a child she testified, and before I was old enough to receive Jesus in Communion, I used to rush to the front door to greet my mother when she returned from Mass. There I stood on tiptoe to reach up to her and cried, “I want God too!” My mother would bend down and softly breathe on my lips; I immediately left her, and placing my hands across my chest, full of joy and faith, jumping for joy I would keep repeating: “I have received God too! I have received God too!” These are signs of a vocation, for one who is called by God’s free and gratuitous will as a gift for the Church.
From the age of ten, when she made her First Holy Communion, her great joy was to be able to receive Communion. From then on, to be deprived of Holy Communion was for her ’a great and painful cross’. In fact, after the death of her mother in 1914 , she could only rarely receive Communion, so as to not offend her brothers who would not allow her to go out on her own.
Maria entered Carmel and took the name Maria Candida of the Eucharist, which in certain aspects was prophetic. She said that she wanted “to keep Jesus company in the Eucharist for as long as possible.” She prolonged the time of her adoration, especially every Thursday, when from eleven to midnight she would be before the tabernacle. The Eucharist really dominated her entire spiritual life, not so much for the devotion, as for the fundamental effect it had on her spiritual relationship with God. It was the Eucharist that gave her the strength to consecrate herself as a victim to God on 1st November 1927.
Maria Candida fully developed what she herself was to describe as her ’vocation for the Eucharist’, helped by Carmelite spirituality, to which she was attracted after reading Story of a Soul. The pages in which St Teresa of Avila describes her own particular devotion to the Eucharist are well known. It was in the Eucharist that the saintly Foundress experienced the mystery of the humanity of Christ.
In 1924 Sr Candida was elected Prioress, a position in which she was to remain, except for a brief period, until 1947. She established in her community a profound love for the Rule of St Teresa of Jesus. She was directly responsible for the expansion of Carmel in Sicily, making a new foundation in Syracuse and helping to secure the return of the male branch of the Order.
On the Feast of Corpus Christi during the Holy Year of 1933, Mother Candida began to write what was to become her little masterpiece, entitled The Eucharist, “true jewel of eucharistic spirituality”. It is a long and profound meditation on the Eucharist, which had as its goal a record of her own personal experiences and her deepening theological reflections on those same experiences.
She saw all the dimensions of Christian life summed up in the Eucharist. Firstly, Faith: “O my Beloved Sacrament, I see you, I believe in you!... O Holy Faith. Contemplate with ever greater faith our Dear Lord in the Sacrament: live with Him who comes to us every day”. Secondly, Hope: “O My Divine Eucharist, my dear Hope, all our hope is in You... Ever since I was a baby my hope in the Holy Eucharist has been strong”. Thirdly, Charity: “My Jesus, how I love You! There is within my heart an enormous love for You, O Sacramental Love...How great is the love of God made bread for our souls, who become a prisoner for me!”
As Prioress, Mother Candida, acquired from the Eucharist a deep understanding of the three religious vows which can be seen in a life that is intensely eucharistic. Not only their full expression but also a concrete way of living, a kind of deep asceticism and a progressive conformity to the only model of every person’s consecration, Jesus Christ who died and rose again for us: “Which hymn would we not sing in obedience to this Divine Sacrament? And what is the obedience of Jesus of Nazareth compared with His obedience in this Sacrament for two thousand years?” “After having taught me obedience how much He talks to me, instructs me in Poverty, O Sacred Host! Who is more naked, poorer than You...You have nothing, You ask for nothing!...O Jesus, let religious souls long for sincere detachment and poverty!” “If You speak to me of obedience and poverty..., what a spell of purity You have over me just by Your glance. Lord, if Your home is in pure souls, who is the soul that relating with You does not become such?” From this came my goal: “I want to be close to You through purity and love”.
The model of a eucharistic life is, of course, the Virgin Mary, who carried the Son of God in her womb and who continues to give birth to him in the souls of his disciples. “I want to be like Mary,” she wrote in one of the most intense and profound pages of The Eucharist, “to be Mary for Jesus, to take the place of His Mother. When I receive Jesus in Communion Mary is always present. I want to receive Jesus from her hands, she must make me one with Him. I cannot separate Mary from Jesus. Hail, O Body born of Mary. Hail Mary, dawn of the Eucharist!”
For Mother Maria Candida the Eucharist is a school, it is food and an encounter with God, a coming together of hearts, a school of virtue and wisdom. “Heaven itself does not contain more. God, that unique treasure is here! Really, yes really: my God is my everything”. “I ask my Jesus to be a guardian of all the tabernacles of the world, until the end of time”.
After she endured months of painful suffering, the Lord called Mother Maria Candida to Himself on the 12th June 1949. It was the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity.