In the final weeks leading up to our wedding, my fiance and I are working on the last details of our wedding mass. We will be getting married in a lovely old German Catholic Church, which is a testament to our parish of the beautiful job our Pastor and his staff do of blending the old and the new. In the midst of our liturgical plans we came across a raging debate: The Unity Candle.
I had never thought much about it. My parents used it back in the 80s and every wedding I have ever been to has had it in one form or another. This spring when we began planning our wedding, I bought a unity candle and decorated it to fit our wedding theme. Then in the midst of all of our happy planing I discovered it is not allowed in our diocesan cathedral. The wedding guide booklet put out by our diocese states that it is ” and addition to the Liturgy”. ”How strange,” I thought; “perhaps I should research this more”. It is allowed at our parish, but I wanted to understand the meaning behind it.
Here is what I have found in regard to the unity candle so far:
The USCCB (emphasis mine):
Unity Candle Although lighting a “unity candle” is not part of the Rite of Marriage it has become very popular as an additional ritual. Most policies do not prohibit this custom but many suggest that it be done at the reception since the Rite of Marriage already has abundant symbols of unity. Cincinnati’s Celebrating Marriage booklet has a pastoral explanation for this. If the unity candle is used, the couple should light their individual candles from the paschal candle, the individual candles should not be extinguished, and the candle should not be placed on the altar. Liturgists continue to discuss the use and conflicting meanings of the unity candle.xi
And a somewhat different view on it from Together for Life Online
Lighting the unity candle, though not part of the Catholic rite of marriage, is common in Catholic weddings. A unity candle is not required, and in some churches, it is not allowed.
Lighting candles, however, does have great significance in the Catholic Church. Our most important candle is the Paschal or Easter Candle, lit at the Easter Vigil. From this candle, all the candles given at infant and adult baptisms are lit. We honor the Paschal Candle because it represents Christ, the Light.
One reason the church’s rite does not include lighting the unity candle may be because its popular meaning—two lives becoming one—is already profoundly signified through the couple’s exchange of vows and rings and in the nuptial blessing.
Some parishes allow this practice because of its personal meaning to the couple. If permitted, the lighting should be done outside the Rite of Marriage itself. For example, an appropriate time might be at the close of the liturgy, just before the final blessing and recessional.
And from Father Larry Rice on the USCCB blog:
The fact is, we Catholics already have a powerful symbol of love and unity at our nuptial masses, one that connects us to our families, the whole community of faith, and the communion of saints. We have the Eucharist. For Catholics, that’s a symbol of unity you can’t hold a candle to.
So what does this come down to? What is a young catholic preparing for marriage supposed to do about the unity candle and other recent practices within the catholic wedding mass? I guess it is a time for us to step back and examine our motives for having the unity candle there in the first place. Is it because of it is a personal symbol to us, or do we want the unity candle in all it pretty glory for a nice photo opp?
What are your thoughts? I would love to hear both sides in the unity candle debate. In the meantime, I think our candle will now turn into something lovely for us to use every Thanksgiving meal instead of our wedding mass.