Eucharistic Colloquies II
Eucharistic Colloquies II

Da: Eucharistic Colloquies, edited by Carmelo Mezzasalma and Alessandro Andreini, translated by Chiara Calabrese, Edizioni Feeria-OCD, Panzano in Chianti (FI) - Roma, 2012, pp. 15-74.

Introduction by Carmelo Mezzasalma

4. Mother Maria Candida’s spiritual path until her entry into Carmel
This is more or less the cultural-historical context in which Mother Maria Candida lived but it is also important to say something about her family who – as we have seen – belonged to the upper middle class, and was therefore affected by in the social and political problems of the time. In this case we have the testimony of Mother Maria Candida herself in her autobiography and that of her sister Antonietta Barba in which the family background is described especially from the point of view of daily life. Her parents, Pietro Barba and Giovanna Florena, were undoubtedly a harmonious couple with deep Christian sentiments. Mother Maria Candida clearly delineates the figure of her father in just a few words: “He was a strong Christian, of sterling character, observant of religious practices, despite people’s opinion.”[1] Her sister Antonietta also has a tender memory of her father, full of interesting details, and portrays a serene, calm personality, devoted to his work and family.[2] The portrait of their mother, on the other hand, especially in Mother Maria Candida’s memory of her, is more detailed. However, we should not forget that in the middle-class family the mother was more directly responsible for the upbringing of children and family management. Mother Maria Candida stresses her generosity towards the poor and needy, but she also adds, “I was the cause of so much suffering for my mother. I used to ask her constantly for permission to take Communion, to fast, or to practise other kinds of self-mortification. It was really exhausting and a true martyrdom for her to make me understand that I needed to eat properly.”[3] Giovanna Florena’s total dedication to her family allowed her to imbue her children with a strong sense of responsibility and of belonging to the family.
Until the age of fifteen Mother Maria Candida, baptized Maria, as we intend to call her now, went through the upbringing typical of girls belonging to well-to-do families. The upbringing of a woman, especially in Sicily, was aimed at a good marriage and completely revolved around this final goal. Young women had to learn to be good mothers and morally faithful to religious and social duties.[4] The Barba family conformed to this tradition and this is the reason why the mother withdrew her daughters from the Collegio Giusino, interrupting their studies, in order not to expose them to the dangers of the school environment and gossip. It is in this context, therefore, that we can understand the “conversion”, or experience of God, which Mother Maria Candida describes in her autobiography. On 2 July 1899 she attended the ceremony in which one of her relatives took the veil in the Convent of the Visitation in Palermo. At first nothing extraordinary happened. On the contrary, in the family they made ironic comments on the possibility that Maria might want to follow the relative’s example. But the following day, when she woke up, something strange happened: “Jesus waited until my sisters had left the room, then, when I was alone, He bent over my heart. I woke up surprised, amazed at what I felt. What had Jesus done to my heart?”[5] Undoubtedly, the experience of the ceremony of taking the veil at the Convent of the Visitation had deeply affected Mother Maria Candida’s soul: “What the day before had appeared to me as something horrible, suddenly became wonderful. Why should I be interested in the world when I can be with God, only and entirely for Him? I found it so easy and wonderful to consecrate my will, my true choice of total devotion to Him. And, determined, I exclaimed, ‘I cannot be happy again unless I am there too’”.[6]

We could say that, from that moment on, Maria, had a completely new vision of Christian faith through the direct intervention of the grace of God, a discovery which corresponded to a call to religious life from the very beginning. This call would be her martyrdom for twenty years. Why would such a religious family oppose her wish so strongly and for such a long time? Undoubtedly, some serious family problems contributed to this opposition, with the death of her father (1904), her brother Paolo (1911) and her mother (1914). Death seemed to threaten the perfect family unity in which all the children in the Barba family had been brought up. In such a situation, a feminine presence like Maria’s was undoubtedly of primary importance. At the same time, as we have seen, the social and cultural climate in Italy at that time did not favour such radical religious choices. Moreover, her brothers Cristoforo and Stefano, now at the head of what remained of the Barba family, had had the opportunity to be more closely in contact with liberal thought and had developed a strong aversion to the religious life, particularly to seclusion. The times when families forced their daughters into the religious life had definitely come to an end. To most people, convents now appeared as the worst example of religious obscurantism.

But why did Maria accept her family’s prohibition?[7] Reading her autobiography we are struck by the unusual feeling of solitude in this young woman who had to wait for twenty long years before being able to fulfil her vocation, for which she strongly needed a spiritual director. “I was envious of the souls who had been able to find a spiritual director, who guided them in spirit and vocation, and was able to nourish and elevate their prayer.”[8] At the same time, we are surprised by her perseverance, determination and even a slight attitude of rebellion against her surrounding environment, and in cultivating and nourishing her life of prayer. We are undoubtedly in the presence of the mystery of a soul that God, despite everything, is leading directly towards the depth of a personal relationship with Himself, through frequent communion. Referring to this period in her autobiography, she wrote, “Every morning, when I get up, I resolve to spend the day in His presence, and I rejoice in this. Sometimes, I surround Him with love, I behold and think of Him, especially when I am more powerfully attracted by Him. I sometimes lay my head on His heart, or kiss His feet and spiritually place myself under them, especially when pride appears. When He crucifies me, when He tries and afflicts me, I kiss those merciful, loving hands.”[9] Certainly, the woman speaking here is not the daughter of an upper middle class family in Palermo, but a soul who is now in the presence of the Lord with all her élans and weaknesses. In this description, everything is so full of life and frankness that there can be no doubt that here there is the direct intervention of Jesus. Before she entered the Carmel, in cultivating her life of faith, and beyond these beautiful and special moments inspired by the direct influence of grace, Maria also relied on her personal devotions to the Sacred Heart, the practice of spiritual Communion and devotion to the Virgin Mary. We know that nowadays such devotions arouse some suspicion because of their rather subjective, sentimental character. But the Church has always been able to indicate their most authentic aspects, namely, interiority, perseverance, a detachment which allows the individual to fulfil God’s will, purity of heart, trust and tenderness. These are all characteristics that we find, one after another, in Maria Barba’s autobiography.

In this context, it is interesting to see how Maria developed a devotion to the Eucharist through her devotion to the Sacred Heart, a journey which is not easy to explain and which we can only deal with briefly, even though it deserves deeper analysis. We have already hinted at how Maria discovered the presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle through reading the Autobiography of St Margaret Mary Alacoque. But it is especially the language used to describe the intimacy with Jesus in the Eucharistic Communion that reveals the strong connection she experienced between these two different aspects, and which led to the only possible interior experience, the deepest union with God. “After Communion,” she wrote in her autobiography, “I enjoy this strong union in the room of my heart. I feel strongly and sweetly attracted there, because Jesus is there and in that moment He is undoubtedly involved in a physical union with me… I was overwhelmed and surrounded by the warmth of His soul, almost at a physical level, and I wanted to plunge into it, remaining forever chained to it. Being there, wrapped up in that sweetest warmth, I had the impression of losing consciousness of my own flesh, as if He and I were only one thing. My heart and soul were suddenly lost in that immense, purest light and my soul was a tiny little dot within His soul.”[10] Here, the union she experienced with Jesus acquires the characteristics of a real, intimate nuptial relationship, which also involves her bodily dimension. This heart to heart relationship reveals how, through the Eucharist, Maria is in reality going towards an even deeper and total kind of intimacy, like the one the Lord Himself suggested in the gospel verses which are the manifesto of the spirituality of the Sacred Heart. The image of Christ’s wounded chest, from which blood and water flow,[11] urges man to enter the life of God without hesitation. Some of the Fathers of the Church have in fact seen in the blood flowing from Christ’s chest a symbol of the Eucharist, which therefore springs precisely from Jesus’ Heart.

Being in communion with the mystery of Jesus is a great work. It seems impossible even to conceive of it, both because it is difficult to attain communion even with other human beings and because we are talking about the eternal Son of God. But Jesus has opened for us the way to communion with His mystery because His attention is permanently on us, and He knows that our eternal vocation is to find our home and our peace in Him. His divine-human figure is perfectly suited to His mission, which consists in bringing everything back to the Father, that is, “to gather into one the dispersed children of God.”[12] The Father wants us to be in communion with Christ, far beyond a simple glance or even friendship. We must strongly believe both in the paternal origin of this plan and in the centrality of Christ, God made man. Christian faith is entirely grounded on this living balance.

In this enforced waiting period, which lasted many years, Maria tried to understand her specific religious vocation. She could only have direct contact with the Order of the Visitation, the Society of Mary Reparatrix, and, of course, with the Teresian Carmel. In reality, it was not a simple matter of choice between one thing and another, but rather a very serious attempt to discern what God had planned for her life. Surprisingly, these three possibilities were, in her eyes, three aspects of one spiritual identity, as we have explained in our comments on the extract from her autobiography. An eager reader of the works of St Francis de Sales, St Frances Fremyot de Chantal and, as we have seen, of St Margaret Mary Alacoque, in this Salesian spirituality, centred on the intimate experience of God and His mercy, Maria discovered a reality which perfectly corresponded to her sensibility, which had been extremely refined by sorrow and suffering. On the other hand, it is well-known that Francis de Sales had a constant point of reference in the works of Teresa of Avila. Maria’s other point of interest was represented by the experience of the Blessed Mother Mary of Jesus (Emilie d’Oultremont), foundress of the Society of Mary Reparatrix which we have already mentioned in the biographical synopsis. On 8 December 1854, the day on which Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Mother Mary of Jesus had the inspiration of the new Institution because of a mystic experience. Our Lady asked her to found a new religious family, addressing her with the following words which Mother Maria Candida quotes in her manuscript: “I took great care of my Son on earth and now I cannot do anything else for Jesus in Sacrament. I beg you, my daughter, to give some of your motherly love to my son, Jesus!” The Society of Mary Reparatrix, which, for a while, our Maria thought of joining, has as its primary mission the “complete self-consecration with Mary to the reparation of the offences done to God and of the harm caused to mankind by sin.”[13] Therefore, the emphasis on the union with Mary is typical of the way of living “reparation” in the Institute founded by the Blessed Mary of Jesus. According to the foundress, it is to Mary, mother and model, that we must constantly refer in order be able to live the charism of the Institute. We must follow Mary’s example and completely identify with her, to become “Mary for Jesus” or, as expressed in these words which seem rather unique within the spirituality of the 19th-century foundresses, “to replace Mary next to the Son”. Many years later, by then a Carmelite, Maria would not forget this wonderful ideal which she must have cultivated with such great intensity that it became the subject of her reflection in the last chapter of her manuscript on the Eucharist. In reality, within her own heart, Maria seems to have always lived for this ideal which she managed to fulfil in the spiritual context of Carmel.

Maria came into contact with Carmelite spirituality early. In 1901 she read the Life of St Teresa of Avila, in 1903, together with her mother and sisters, she wore the Scapular of the Madonna of the Carmine in the Chiesa degli Angelini in Palermo. Nevertheless, the decisive experience was her first encounter with St Thérèse of Lisieux’s The Story of a Soul, which she read between 1912 and 1914. As clearly appears in the extract quoted from the letter to her friend Agatina Callari, Thérèse was fundamental in her choice of the Teresian Carmel. In an unpublished extract from her Confessione generale, Maria also declares that it was the saint of Lisieux who increased her desire for a life of seclusion, and therefore directed her to Carmel.[14] In her Canto sulla montagna, Mother Maria Candida describes her first visit to the Palermo Carmel, which took place in 1912. After the visit to the convent, which was a striking experience for her, she went with her family on a trip to one of the most beautiful beaches in the gulf. But Maria was unable to stop thinking of her encounter. “In order to get to the beach,” she recalls, “we had to travel up a beautiful mountain [Mount Pellegrino]. I looked and looked at it, yearning for a different mountain, for Mount Carmel where I longed to dwell, and I had elevated thoughts… I had been seized by the thought of religious life, the thought of sanctity.”[15] These were fundamental years in which Maria gradually understood that the Lord was calling her to Carmel, even if, as she herself admitted, the doubt as to which convent to enter remained. In Palermo, postulants were not accepted because the convent could not yet guarantee a regular life. In the pages following the description of her first visit to the Palermo convent, Mother Maria Candida reveals her interior conflict regarding the decision on whether to enter a Carmel far from Palermo. This was a prospect which initially frightened her but, in a vision of that period, the Lord Himself invited her to do it.

We must remember that the Teresian Carmel in Sicily has had a wonderful and tragic history, which father Gaudenzio Gianninoto has tried to reconstruct in the valuable book we have already mentioned, Mistero che attira.[16] Carmelite spirituality had spread on the island starting from the 13th century, as demonstrated by the great devotion to the Madonna of the Carmine to whom many churches and chapels are dedicated. The Teresian Reformation reached Sicily, then a Spanish dominion, around 1610, with the building of the church of Santa Maria dei Rimedi in Palermo, commissioned by one of the prominent figures of the Counter-Reformation, the venerable Father Domingo of Jesus Mary (Ruzola). Thereafter and following the beatification (1614) and canonization (1621) of the saint of Avila, the Teresian Carmel prospered wonderfully in Sicily. Nevertheless, serious political problems, especially between the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, prevented full growth in the Sicilian Province which, at the height of its development at around the end of the 17th century, had eleven or twelve monasteries and fourteen convents. When the Italian government imposed suppression of religious orders in 1866, the Sicilian Teresian Carmel was going through a period of crisis and persecution therefore simply accelerated an existing process. Nevertheless, the Carmelite presence in Sicily was not completely wiped out, “This was thanks to some fraternities of the Third Order and especially to some nuns who continued to live together and, in some cases, even tried to re-found their own convent, as happened in Palermo, Vizzini and Chiaromonte.”[17]

Maria therefore came into contact with the Carmelite Convent in Palermo precisely in the years when the Carmels were finding it difficult to survive in Sicily. In fact, and this is one of the reasons why Maria later chose Ragusa, the re-foundation of the Carmelite convent in Palermo did not succeed, due to a series of problems which distressed Cardinal Lualdi. The cardinal, together with the Venerable Mgr Antonio Intreccialagli (1852-1924), a Discalced Carmelite from Monreale, and his friend the Archbishop of Siracusa-Ragusa, Mgr Luigi Bignami, suggested to Maria Barba that she enter the Ragusa Carmel. Recently founded, it received a new impulse and was strengthened by the work of Mother Maria Candida, and later all the reborn Teresian Carmels benefited from this.[18] As Father Gianninoto has written, the history of the foundation of the Ragusa Carmel “recalls some stories in St Teresa’s Foundations. At the beginning of the 20th century, Marianna Vitale came across the Rule and Constitutions of the Order through one of her sisters who was a Carmelite nun in the old convent in Chiaromonte. She planned to found a convent in her birthplace, Ragusa, and managed to communicate her enthusiasm to some of her girlfriends.”[19] The project would be accomplished thanks, in part, to the support and enthusiasm of some diocesan priests, the Archbishop of Siracusa-Ragusa, Mgr Luigi Bignami and the generous help of the Blessed Mary Schininà who, for some time, housed the new community in a wing of the Institute of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart which she had founded. The official establishment of the convent took place on 17 August 1911, after the arrival of two Discalced Carmelites from Naples who took charge of the education of the young nuns, introducing them to the Teresian spirit.

No doubt, if Maria’s family had consented to her joining the religious life some years before, she would probably not have chosen the Carmelite vocation. In other words, the opposition of the family did not simply represent a period of great suffering and, in some way, of bewilderment, but it also gave her time to analyse her vocation, and fully understand the way that the Lord had prepared for her. The words she uses to describe her arrival in the Ragusa Carmel, which took place on 24 September 1919, help us to grasp the significance of her choice. “I came here,” she writes, “with the strong wish to plunge into religious life and drink from a strict Rule, away from everybody and alone with Jesus… Here I came and knelt in front of the Sacred Tabernacle where I felt the need to immolate myself, therefore I immolated myself to Him in silence! I had entered in order to become a prisoner of Jesus, with a naturalness which I cannot explain and at the mere thought of which I am amazed.”[20] In these words, it is not difficult to identify the influence of St Thérèse of Lisieux’s spirituality. Maria entered Carmel in order to fulfil her longing for immolation, an immolation in which she also saw the way to sanctification. This is the core of little Thérèse’s message, her radical wish to immolate and donate herself for the salvation of souls, as she wonderfully expressed it in the Act of Oblation to Merciful Love. “I wish to be a saint,” she wrote, “but I can sense my impotence and I ask You, my God, to be my own sanctity… I want to work only for Your Love, with the only aim of pleasing You, to soothe Your Sacred Heart and save the souls that will love You forever.” It is therefore not impossible to attain sanctity. It is in fact a path we can take, in which what matters is not having merits but being faithful to God and His love. We believe that this is how we should interpret Mother Maria Candida’s words when she says that her immolation should be accomplished in silence. She donated herself in complete secrecy, disregarding her own self, her duty, her qualities, and the unquestionable esteem in which she was held by her sisters, due to the fact that she came from Palermo and belonged to a well-to-do family. St Thérèse of Lisieux’s “little way”, therefore, made everything easier for her. It gave a new intensity to the original desire for self-donation of a fifteen-year-old girl and turned the long, painful wait into a time in which her offer became more conscious, mature and even essential. It is not surprising that, at the end of the extract quoted above, she should be amazed at the naturalness which accompanied her entrance to Carmel, as if, having already made that entire journey, this was only the last act of a life in which time, suffering and especially the work of Grace had prepared her for a fuller accomplishment. No doubt the manuscript on the Eucharist, written approximately fifteen years after she entered the Ragusa Carmel, can be considered the best synthesis of this difficult interior journey but, at the same time, so exemplary and blessed by the Lord.
5. The manuscript on the Eucharist
As we have seen, what Mother Maria Candida calls her “discovery of the Eucharist”, dates back to the years when she was in Palermo and starting to develop her already intense spiritual journey with detailed readings and reflections. This special interior relationship with the Eucharistic mystery continued to grow and she became more and more aware of it later, when she had to suffer long periods without the Eucharist, due to the custom of the time and to the consequent hostility of her family. The letters to her friend Agatina, in the years preceding her entry into the Ragusa Carmel, are all marked by what Mother Maria Candida calls a true “martyrdom.”[21] When she entered the Carmel, this love for Jesus Host, as she likes to call the Eucharist, freely developed till it became a true mission, an authentic spiritual identity which, starting from her name as a nun, guided the whole of her interior journey.

When, in spring 1933, the prioress of the convent, Mother Maria Teresa of Jesus, asked her in obedience to write some reflections on the theme of the Eucharist, Mother Maria Candida had to draw up a spiritual balance of her journey and her very special relationship with the Eucharist. Maria Immacolata of St Teresa, a sister in the Ragusa Carmel who wrote a still unpublished biography of Mother Maria Candida, remembers how Mother Maria Teresa of Jesus, one of the first foundresses of the Ragusa Carmel, had asked her to write some meditations on the Sacred Heart.[22]

At the suggestion of her spiritual director, Don Giorgio La Perla, Mother Maria Candida started to write what she felt in a spontaneous way. In the inside back cover of the notebook which contains the entire manuscript, there are two dates: “Saturday 24-6-933 – eight days after the Feast Day of the Sacred Heart – Saturday 8-6-935 – Whitsunday Eve”. These are probably the starting and final dates of the composition of the manuscript. Therefore, Mother Maria Candida began her manuscript on the Eucharist “eight days after the Feast Day of the Sacred Heart” and it is probably for this reason that the prioress asked her to write something on this theme. As soon as Mother Maria Candida got permission from her confessor to write freely, she started to write her reflections on the Eucharist, the theme that was so dear to her. As we have seen, for Mother Maria Candida there is a close link between the Sacred Heart and the Eucharist, and it was through the biography of St Margaret Mary Alacoque that she discovered the presence of Jesus Eucharist in the church Tabernacles. Moreover, the themes of reparation and immolation, pertinent to the spirituality of the Sacred Heart, are thoroughly dealt with within the manuscript. We should not be surprised at how long it took Mother Maria Candida to complete the manuscript. We have to bear in mind that the following autumn she was re-elected prioress of the convent and that these were the years of the difficult and complex move of the community of nuns to the new convent in Via Marsala.

The spontaneity suggested by Don La Perla to Mother Maria Candida does not contradict the fact that in reality this is a highly structured text, with an interior harmony and logical organisation. As Father Antonio Blasucci, theologian and censor of Mother Maria Candida’s writings, has rightly written about the manuscript, “I believe that the notebook containing the ‘Writings on the Eucharist’ is the most revealing of the spiritual disposition of the Servant of God Mother Candida, who can therefore be considered a mystic of the Eucharist. The manuscript, the literary text, is a jewel of authentic Eucharistic spirituality.”[23]

What we could call the first chapter of the manuscript, and which in the present edition is entitled A Vocation for the Eucharist, is a kind of introduction to the entire narration, in which Mother Maria Candida summarises her interior journey through the mystery of the Eucharist and describes the particular mystic experience she went through during the last solemnity of Corpus Christi in 1933. In these initial pages, Mother Maria Candida also reflects on the meaning of the interior experience which binds her to the Eucharist, revealing that she had repeatedly thought of not keeping it entirely for herself, as it was important to share this experience with others. But precisely when she seemed to have come to terms with the idea of keeping everything to herself ("Well then, I will tell, proclaim everything in Heaven, to all the celestial assembly, so that my Jesus will receive the honour He deserves!" p. 95), she received the unexpected order from the Prioress. She was at first frightened by the task, but then embraced it with enthusiasm, entrusting herself to God.

The second chapter, The Eucharist and Faith, is the first of three long meditations in which Mother Maria Candida reflects on the relationship between the mystery of the Eucharist and the theological virtues. The believer has a double response to the Eucharist in terms of faith: we must in fact believe in the real presence of Jesus both in the consecrated Host and in our intimate heart. Mother Maria Candida therefore associates the Ciborium of the altar with the “ciborium of our heart”, using a particularly strong and effective image. The experience of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, which for Mother Maria Candida also depends on daily awareness of the great gift that God has granted us, allowing His son to dwell among us, becomes a compelling invitation to strengthen our faith in Jesus and progress in virtue and love, drawing from that spring of strength and love which is the Eucharist.

The chapter dedicated to The Eucharist and Hope is centred on one of the themes most dear to Mother Maria Candida, that is, the transformation that the Eucharist performs in the life of those who embrace it in an authentic, passionate way. Embracing the Eucharist means hoping to achieve complete purification of our life and true personal sanctification. “Oh yes, my soul, small and wretched, seeks His soul to be sanctified, to be filled with sanctity through the contact” (p. 111). Mother Maria Candida hopes for everything from the Eucharist and she particularly hopes for the salvation of those who are indifferent to it as they do not understand the richness of this mystery. These are the most moving pages in the manuscript, reaching a mystic loftiness which echoes St Paul’s strong language, “I can do everything, thanks to the strength that Your cherished Body instils in me! You are my hope, You are my sanctification, my sanctity” (p. 115). These pages announce the theme of reparation and the wish for redemption which Mother Maria Candida experiences intensely in her contact with the Eucharist.

Her meditation on the theological virtues ends with the chapter dedicated to The Eucharist and Charity, which Mother Maria Candida opens with an extraordinary declaration which closely recalls the spiritual experience of St Thérèse of Lisieux. “Measure this love of mine as often as You like, Oh Lord, measure it! When You have spent a long time measuring it and think You have finished, You will have to start again! And this will happen many times, forever, because I love You with infinite love (forgive me)!” (p. 117). The intensity of this marital love relationship between Jesus and Mother Maria Candida once again acquires the aspect of martyrdom, of a unique and consuming relationship, which allows no delays or distractions. “My immense need to be with Him, and my inability to be one with Him from afar, gives me terrible fits of pain, a most tormenting torture, which has been a true martyrdom almost all through my life” (p. 121). From the inexhaustible spring of love of the Eucharist, Mother Maria Candida also learns humility when she discovers Jesus’ exclusive love for those sisters who are not considered to be particularly saintly by the community. The Eucharist, therefore, also teaches her love and compels her to give her whole self in order to let everyone discover this source of life and happiness.

The following chapter, The Eucharist as Communion with God, in some way completes the previous one and is dedicated to the theme of transformation. For Mother Maria Candida the Eucharist has a transforming power in itself which goes beyond our perception. Coming to us and within us, Jesus deliberately produces that union with God which is the final aim of a spiritual journey. “What transformation is undergone by the souls that always take Holy Communion, what fusion, what union with Jesus!” (p. 129). Completely amazed by the great gift represented by the Eucharistic presence of Jesus in the world, Mother Maria Candida finally becomes aware of the “vocation” that the Lord has granted her and which, in a sense, makes her a true “apostle of the Eucharist”. In this perspective, she can address Jesus and announce her firm belief in the power of the action of the Eucharist which sounds like a kind of life project. “Let all the souls, Jesus, receive Communion for love and with love, let them put all their effort into devoting as much time as they can to thanksgiving, and I will soon bring You, my Beloved, souls yearning for You, determined to offer themselves and genuinely dedicated to the attainment of their own sanctification!” (p. 134).

With the chapter The Eucharist and Reparation we go to the heart of Mother Maria Candida’s reflection. She remembers how she started to grasp the spiritual meaning of reparation at a time when she still lived within her family and this long-lasting faith in the call of the heart has now turned into full affection and devotion. “Now I feel something divine within me and reparation pours from my heart like water from a spring” (p. 139). The idea that Jesus, in order to be able to remain in the Sacrament, is willing to accept insults, coldness and indifference, arouses in her an intense desire to return this love and participate, as much as she can, in this complete offer that Jesus Host makes of Himself. Hence the idea of becoming the guardian of Jesus in the Tabernacles, and being an eternal lamp in those places where Jesus is most forgotten. “It is there, in those desolate and unfrequented churches, on those poor, neglected altars, where the lamp is half-extinguished or extinguished altogether, it is there that my heart is, close to Jesus!" (pp. 143-144).

The following chapter, The Eucharist and Immolation, deals more directly with the well-known theme of the Eucharistic sacrifice and begins with a truly deep, intense spiritual vision of “our immolated Jesus [immolated on the altar] is the pillar of the world and of the Church, the eternal supplication pleading for us, the reason why so many graces and mercies pour down on the earth, from our Father's bosom, on each soul” (p.148). Joining in this everlasting supplication which goes through Jesus to the Father we can participate in the work of redemption. In this wish to donate, Mother Maria Candida discovers, as the blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity before her, the miracle that Jesus performs in us, making us worthy to appear before the Heavenly Father. “Then everything is fine. I clothe myself with Him [Christ] and I can say to the Father, ‘Father, haven’t I loved You enough in my life? Can’t You tell how much? That’s how much I have loved You!’” (p. 149). Giving up her will and natural inclinations, this is how Mother Maria Candida chooses to fully accomplish immolation, having understood that suffering is the only “eternal language of love” worthy of God.

The eighth chapter, The Eucharist and the Religious Vows, deals with one of the most original and significant themes of the manuscript. Drawing from her personal experience and from her early years as prioress, in these pages Mother Maria Candida offers a brief introduction to the three vows of obedience, poverty and chastity, which find their full expression in the Eucharist. In fact, who was ever more obedient, chaste and poorer than Jesus Host? In front of this supreme example, Mother Maria Candida opens up and analyses her most intimate self in search of the contradictions and cunning ways which human beings often embrace in order not to conform to the evangelic principles. A “willing, loving and perfect” obedience, a poverty which is even deprived of basic needs, a chastity free from duplicity, hypocrisy and lack of simplicity – this is Mother Maria Candida’s Eucharistic teaching for those who seriously want to lead a religious life.

In the following chapter, The Eucharist and Love for one’s Neighbour, Mother Maria Candida devotes her reflection to the mystery of love contained in the Eucharist which the Lord, in His infinite goodness, offers us, “to possess this Heart from which everything comes to us, to me, this Heart which has loved men so much. My God, You could not have made us happier on the earth!” (p. 178). It is from the Heart of Christ that we can understand the true meaning of love for our neighbour, and Mother Maria Candida demonstrates how, conforming to this principle, she has developed an authentic devotion to others. But this is not enough, and once again, enthusiastic at her discovery, she exhorts the reader to follow her example. “Let us love one another. If we manage to draw from the furnace of the divine Heart, Jesus’ charity will impel us to do this.” (p.181)

The last chapter of the manuscript, The Eucharist and Mary, is significantly dedicated to the relationship between the Eucharist and the Virgin Mary Mother of God. It opens with a rather surprising confession, “Mary is hiding. Why?” (p. 190) – and develops as a true interior analysis aimed at understanding the reason for this attitude of silence which Mary seems to have towards her devoted daughter. As she goes through a real night of the faith, at least as regards her relationship with Mary, Mother Maria Candida does not give up and continues to invoke the light. And finally the Lord answers her prayer. “Finally everything becomes clear, finally I understand and I have found Mary!” (p. 196). And in discovering the Virgin she also deeply understands the meaning of her passion for the Eucharist. “I have discovered the secret − so much love, so much passion for Jesus Host, for Jesus dwelling among us, came to me from Mary! It has something of Her own Heart” (p. 196). In other words, her mission acquires a wider and more typically evangelic significance. She will love and make other people love the Eucharist in the same way as Mary has loved and loves her Son.

The manuscript ends with a Consecration to Jesus Eucharist which summarises, in the prayer and in the offering of the self, the whole itinerary described so far. “I owe You everything, divine Eucharist!” Mother Maria Candida exclaims, expressing both her gratitude and her renewed devotion, and offering this experience of love and extremely deep spiritual union as a gift to the souls that still do not know it. “I wish all the atoms in my body and all the souls in the world were on fire because of You in Sacrament!” (p. 202).
6. Relevance of her message to the present time: John Paul II’s New Encyclical on the Eucharist Having dealt with the mission God assigned to Mother Maria Candida of the Eucharist, who was called to the extraordinary, intense and, at times, even difficult experience of the Eucharistic mystery, we cannot help concluding our introduction with a reference to the encyclical that John Paul II, in the 25th year of his papacy, dedicated precisely to the Eucharist and Its Relationship to the Church. This will help us to understand the relevance of Mother Maria Candida’s teaching to the present day and, in particular, how deeply rooted it is in the tradition of faith in the Church of which she was a faithful and grateful daughter. With his encyclical the Pope wanted to draw the attention of the Christian community to the centrality of the Eucharist for the life of the Church, inviting all believers to rediscover the beauty, loftiness and depth of the Eucharistic mystery, “fount and apex of the whole Christian life”,[24] as defined by the Second Vatican Council with words taken from the encyclical.[25] Right at the beginning of the document the Pope declares, “The Church draws her life from the Eucharist. This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith, but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church. In a variety of ways she joyfully experiences the constant fulfilment of the promise, ‘Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age’ (Matt. 28.20); but in the Holy Eucharist, through the changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord, she rejoices in this presence with unique intensity.”[26]

Further on, the Pope declares that the aim of the encyclical is to reawaken in the heart of believers this Eucharistic amazement”,[27] and his choice of an expression which does not reflect typical theological language, naturally brings us back to the passionate tone of Mother Maria Candida’s pages. It was precisely in order to stir in souls a fervent love, like her own, for the Eucharist “in order to make You the object of love and the quickening of the heart, in order to foster Your Eucharistic Kingdom!” (p 101) that Mother Maria Candida agreed to write down her very special interior experience, as a gift for the others. “The beauty of the Eucharist, the sweetness of the symbols, my Jesus in person there on His throne and then the greatness, the splendour of the Church, of all religion, the magnificence of worship, the sanctity of the sacred ministers, the immeasurable treasure of the Word of Jesus…” (p. 98). Mother Maria Candida knew that all this was contained in the immensity of the Eucharist, and it is for this reason that in her case we can talk about a mission, within the very heart of the Church, rather than simply a wish to reawaken a devotion for the Eucharist.

It is surprising how the entire structure of Mother Maria Candida’s text in which, one after the other, all the central aspects of Christian faith – from the theological virtues to the experience of communion with God, of reparation and immolation, from the religious Vows to love for one’s neighbour and the Virgin Mary – acquire a special meaning through the Eucharist, closely resembles the structure which John Paul II gave to his encyclical seventy years later. Although here we cannot analyse it in detail, it is quite evident that it goes through all aspects of the Christian mystery, rediscovering its Eucharistic nature and source: the Easter sacrifice of Christ, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the eschatological perspective, the building of the Church, the apostolic mission, ecclesial communion, ecumenical commitment, saintliness and the figure of Mary.

Nevertheless, it is worth briefly clarifying at least three aspects of this extraordinary similarity between Mother Maria Candida’s writings and the encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia. Firstly, the wonderful autobiographical pages that open John Paul II’s encyclical letter recall some of the fundamental steps of his Eucharistic experience. There is the memory of the Eucharistic celebration in the Refectory in Jerusalem during the Jubilee of 2000, which opens the encyclical perfectly; there is the memory of more than fifty years of priesthood as a servant of the Eucharist; and the memory of his first Mass, in the crypt in Krakow’s cathedral, recalled at the end of the encyclical. This is what we repeatedly find in Mother Maria Candida’s pages, when she introduces and develops her reflection through the memory of the gifts she was granted by God.

The experience of the God Jesus Christ is not made up of a series of abstract truths and concepts, but is the story of an encounter, of a conversion and of a communion which happens because of specific events, people and places. Christian faith is faith in the incarnation of the Son who became a man and was part of time and history, and who can still be clearly found in the Eucharist. John Paul II and Mother Maria Candida seem to say that learning to approach this mystery means learning to see reality with new eyes, sticking to life and its truth. This life is in fact made up of darkness and light, defeats and victories, sorrows and joys which Jesus has come to save and redeem. It is here that we must wait for Him and welcome Him, bearing in mind the elect way of the Eucharist, humble and yet sublime, that He Himself has prepared in order to foster our encounter with Him.

Another theme to which John Paul II repeatedly refers to in his encyclical, is sacramental communion, a fundamental aspect in which our participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice is fully accomplished. “We can say not only that each of us receives Christ, but also that Christ receives each of us. He enters into friendship with us: ‘You are my friends’ (John 15.14). Indeed it is because of Him that we have life: ‘He who eats me will live because of me’ (John 6.57). In a sublime way, Eucharistic communion brings about the mutual ‘abiding’ of Christ and each of his followers: ‘Abide in me, and I in you’ (John 15.4).”[28] The goal of the Eucharistic Sacrifice – the Pope writes – is the communion of believers with Christ and it is in fact through communion with His body and blood that Christ communicates His Spirit, a divine gift which is at the root of all other gifts, and that the liturgy entreats from God in the Eucharistic epiclesis.[29] “The gift of Christ and his Spirit which we receive in Eucharistic communion superabundantly fulfils the yearning for fraternal unity deeply rooted in human heart; at the same time it elevates the experience of fraternity already present in our common sharing at the same Eucharistic table to a degree that far surpasses that of the simple human experience of sharing a meal.”[30] Mother Maria Candida was therefore perfectly right to become excited at the thought of a well-done Communion, which is the only source of that grace which performs our transformation. She even became an apostle of this union, with an appeal which, according to what John Paul II writes, has not lost its relevance to the present time, “Let all the souls, Jesus, receive Communion for love and with love, let them put all their effort into devoting as much time as they can to thanksgiving, and I will soon bring You, my Beloved, souls yearning for You, determined to offer themselves and genuinely dedicated to the attainment of their own sanctification!” (p.136).

The last aspect we will deal with, as a kind of farewell − and having left out others, such as the appeal to the decorum and beauty of celebrations and churches, or the value assigned to the Eucharistic cult outside the Mass − is the relationship between Eucharist and Mary which, both in John Paul II’s encyclical and in Mother Maria Candida’s text, is dealt with at the end. Here the parallel is almost literal. Mother Maria Candida writes, “Divine Eucharist, You were first given to me by Mary! I would not own You if Mary had not consented to become Mother of the Word Incarnate. I cannot separate You from Mary, and Mary from You! Hail Body born of the Virgin Mary! Hail Mary, dawn of the Eucharist!” (p. 191) And almost commenting on this, John Paul II writes, “In a certain sense Mary lived her Eucharistic faith even before the institution of the Eucharist, by the very fact that she offered her virginal womb for the incarnation of God’s Word. The Eucharist, while commemorating the passion and resurrection, is also in continuity with the incarnation. At the Annunciation, Mary conceived the Son of God in the physical reality of his body and blood, thus anticipating within herself what to some degree happens sacramentally in every believer who receives, under the signs of bread and wine, the Lord’s body and blood.”[31] The “yes” that Mary pronounced, once and for all, to the Father, welcoming the Son in her womb, is the same that every believer pronounces when receiving the body and blood of Christ. Therefore, Mary is the model from which we learn how to receive the Eucharistic Jesus. “And,” the Pope asks, “is not the enraptured gaze of Mary as she contemplated the face of the newborn Christ and cradled him in her arms that unparalleled model of love which should inspire us every time we receive Eucharistic communion?”[32] This is something Mother Maria Candida had already understood when she wrote, “In my Communions Mary is always with me, it is from Her hands that I want to receive Him, it is with Her Heart that I want to welcome Him, and I offer It to Jesus.” (p. 195) And further on, “When the most sweet Host is in my heart, I sometimes feel the same tenderness as Mary did when She held Jesus in Her arms. I would like to protect Him from indifference and neglect, I would like to enshrine Him within my heart, to soothe Him, that most cherished Body, that most innocent and beneficial Flesh.” (pp. 200-201) Although the passionate and almost physical tone of her exclamations might surprise, it should not be forgotten that Mother Maria Candida is a spiritual daughter of St Teresa of Avila and her extraordinary Christian realism. Yes, the Eucharist is truly a taste of our future glory, a token we receive while waiting for the fullness of communion and the knowledge of God. Of the Eucharist, as well as of Mary, we will never say enough: Mother Maria Candida’s mission, in reality, has just started.

[1] Translated from Mother Maria Candida of the Eucharist, Nella stanza del mio cuore, p.25.
[2] Cf. Antonietta Barba, Ricordi, typescript preserved in the Records of the Ragusa Carmel.
[3] Translated from Mother Maria Candida of the Eucharist, Nella stanza del mio cuore, p.27.
[4] Although not directly related to our subject, it may be interesting to read what an important man of letters such as Sebastiano Aglianò (1917-1982) wrote, in his well-known Questa Sicilia (1945), about the condition of women in Sicily: “The Sicilian woman has neither moral nor economic autonomy… From this, we can understand how her existence is permanently dependent on that of man…, and we can also understand why the only worry of a growing young woman – a truly obsessive worry, worse than in other societies – concerns the means and ways which will lead her to marriage.” (quoted in G. Bufalino - N. Zago, Cento Sicilie, op. cit., pp. 221-222).
[5] Translated from Mother Maria Candida of the Eucharist, Nella stanza del mio cuore, p. 44.
[6] Ibidem, pp. 45-46.
[7] Explanations for the behaviour of some members of Maria’s family, regarding this specific matter, were requested by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and they are very interesting and, in many respects, exhaustive. This was a problem which had already been raised by theological censors in the beatification inquiries. But we are dealing with a more specifically spiritual matter in that we are trying to understand the connection between God’s will, expressed within a specific life context, and the interior attitude in the face of all the insurmountable difficulties which prevent the accomplishment of that will.
[8] Ibidem, p. 47.
[9] Ibidem, p. 51.
[10]Ibidem, pp. 56-57. It is worth stressing that this deep mystic experience did not take place during a liturgical celebration or in a particular moment of prayer, but while Maria was “in the kitchen” carrying out her daily duties.
[11] Cf. John 19.33-34.
[12] John 11.52.
[13] Antiquiorum Textus Constitutionum Societatis Mariae (Roma 1955), n. 1.
[14] Cf. Mother Maria Candida of the Eucharist, Confessione generale, typescript preserved in the Records of the Ragusa Convent, p. 166.
[15] Mother Maria Candida of the Eucharist, Il canto sulla montagna, op. cit., pp. 89 ff.
[16] In recent years Father Camillo Maccise, Propositor General of the Discalced Carmelites, started a process of reconstruction of the Sicilian province. The history of the Teresian Carmel therefore seems to find a new perspective of life and deserves to be studied and analysed. In this context, we should also remember Father Girolamo Gracian, intimate and faithful collaborator of St Teresa of Avila, who was expelled from the emerging Order because of some disagreements with Father Nicolò Doria, and got as far as Sicily during his peregrinations in search for help. Here, as he himself told, he also wrote some books, including Storia dell’Ordine (a History of the Order), and tried to enter the Augustinian Order. Soon after leaving Sicily and while travelling to Rome, he was kidnapped by the Turks who kept him prisoner for a year and a half. As is well-known, Father Gracian died as a Carmelite in Brussels in 1612. The Order has recently decided to start the beatification inquiries for him.
[17] Translated from G. Gianninoto, Mistero che attira, op. cit., p.89.
[18] Regarding the choice of the Carmelite Convent in Ragusa cf. Perché il card. Lualdi ha suggerito alla S.D. di entrare al Carmelo di Ragusa edited by the Discalced Carmelites of Ragusa, preserved in the Convent’s Records. Cf. also G. Gianninoto, Mistero che attira, op. cit., p. 91.
[19] Ibidem, pp. 91-93.
[20] Translated from Mother Maria Candida of the Eucharist, Il canto sulla montagna, op. cit., pp.53 ff., editors’ italics.
[21] Cf. Mother Maria Candida of the Eucharist, Nella stanza del mio cuore, op. cit., pp. 72-73. For this aspect, see also A. Andreini, “Il carisma eucaristico di Madre M. Candida dell’Eucarestia nella spiritualità del suo tempo”, Rivista di Vita Spirituale, 3, maggio-giugno 1998, pp. 248-268, pp. 257-261.
[22] Cf. Suor Immacolata di Santa Teresa, Biografia della Serva di Dio madre Maria Candida dell’Eucarestia, typescript preserved in the Records of the Ragusa Carmel, pp. 394 and ff. Mother Maria Teresa of Jesus (1879-1968), whose secular name was Maria Battaglia, was born in Ragusa and actively helped Sister Maria Giovanna of the Cross in the foundation of the Ragusa Carmel. She was in fact one of the five young nuns who were housed by the Blessed Maria Schininà in her Institute when the foundation of the convent began. She was elected prioress of the convent for the first time in 1918 and then a second time in 1930, and was therefore the prioress who welcomed Maria Barba to the convent. She was an exemplary Carmelite and prioress and testified at Mother Maria Candida’s beatification inquiries (cf. the Records in the Ragusa Carmel).
[23] ‘Votum reverendo padre A. Blasucci’ in Positivo super causae introductione, Roma 1978, p.8 (editors’ italics).
[24] Vatican Ecumenical Council II, Dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, no. 11.
[25] Cf. John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (17 April 2003), no. 1.
[26] Ibidem.
[27] Cf. ibidem, no. 6.
[28] Ibidem, no. 22.
[29] Cf. ibidem nos. 16-17.
[30] Ibidem, no.24.
[31] Ibidem, no.55.
[32] Ibidem.


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