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The Unity Candle : Yes or No?

October 2, AD 2012 19 Comments

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

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.


About the Author:

Rachel is a wife, Catholic, and cowgirl. Married to her sweetheart Sam, the two of them are enjoying the adventures of life hand-in-hand.

  • Laura

    I, on the other hand, don’t remember unity candles in any of the weddings I have attended so they don’t hold any special value for me . My veredict: No 😉

  • ron merida

    We used a unity candle in our wedding with a mass. It was done bc I’ve seen it before so we naturally wanted it. But we didn’t light the candles, it was our mothers that lit them. I didn’t know the candles weren’t part of the ritual !

  • Lisa

    To be honest, I had never heard of unity candles until we attended a Protestant church in California. I was 30 when we started there. I think the symbology is beautiful, but back then I thought it was more suited to the reception, and I still think that today as a Catholic. Our church does not allow them to be any part of the celebration in the church, but we rarely have brides ask for them nowadays. (I’m a member of the parish wedding committee.) If it’s a family tradition you want to continue, I’d suggest asking the pastor’s thoughts and then making sure it’s okay with your celebrant (if it’s a different priest). If it’s a no-go for inside the church, then definitely take it to the reception. You’ll still have a lovely memory of your day and another visible reminder there of what happened during the Mass. Best wishes to you and your fiance! 🙂

  • Cephas

    I don’t remember why we didn’t have it, but looking at the pictures, I’d say definitely not!! Please don’t do it!! They just look so out of place for a church. If you need it, it could fit in the reception.

  • Elizabeth

    Our priest asked if we wanted a unity candle, and when we said no, his response was “thank God!”. Ha! Seriously though, the Rite of Christian Marriage is so packed with beautiful symbols, I really don’t think it is necessary.

  • Sue

    I’ve always thought of a unity candle as the attempt of a non-Catholic to create a ritual or liturgy. Their wedding ceremony is so short that anything done to length it is good. Nope. You don’t need it!

  • Rachel, I HATE unity candles. So, of course, I think you are making the best decision ever. 🙂

    I was told by our cathedral’s wedding planner that unity candles were thought up in the 70’s by Protestants to make their own weddings longer/prettier/have more liturgy. I encourage you to do something very traditionally Catholic – take flowers to the Blessed Mother and ask for her prayers over your marriage.

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  • SWP

    We did the unity candle at our reception. There were so many compromises to be made, so many concessions I had asked from my bride so that we could be in keeping with the ritual, this was one thing I spared.

    Most people aren’t aware that the bridal entrance is also a fabrication of non-Catholic weddingdom. The Catholic rite asks the man and woman to walk each other down the aisle. My wife’s concession to me was literally meeting me halfway, so that part of the walk down the aisle was in accordance with the ritual, even though the start of the walk was according to custom with her making an entrance escorted by her father.

    Hence, my concession to her that we include the unity candle but not during the ceremony. Instead we lit the candle at the reception. In the end, it became a tearful moment for our parents to part with each of us symbolically as we came to celebrate being one family together.

  • SWP

    We also did the traditional bouquet to Mary and added an even older, more traditional practice wherein I lit a candle to Joseph while she presented a bouquet to Mary. We were told that this practice should also be discouraged, because normally during Mass one does not leave for a private devotional. We believed it would be a teachable moment for everyone present and so decided to keep with the tradition of many Polish women in my wife’s family.

  • Alex

    When my fiancee and I met with our priest for last prep session this past Saturday (!), we brought up the fact that we had a unity candle and wanted to know when we should utilize it. As soon as we said, “we have a unity candle”, our priest told us, “no, you don’t.” We sort of blinked, and he said that, like others above have mentioned, the greatest source of unity for a nuptial Mass is the Eucharist, and that was the only thing needed. He also mentioned the fact that the idea of a unity candle was not in the rubric, and he would rather preserve the purity of the liturgy. He also mentioned that the unity candle was something a lot of priests grumble about, but don’t really do much to stop. I’m ok with that.
    Now, we have to figure out of the store will let us return it…

  • Bill

    Like holding hands during the Our Father, I didn’t first come across the UC until I attended a non-Catholic wedding. I thought then, as I do now – it is a terrible symbol for several reasons. The “custom” is to have the mothers light the smaller candles – symbolizing that they gave life to their son/daughter. What the father had no role/fuction in giving life to his son/daughter? Then in most cases, the smaller candels are blown out; symbolizing what – the two are now one and on their own?

    Here’s a suggestion for every pastor – write down everything that is permitted and prohibited in a wedding Mass and ceremony and give this to the couple during your first meeting with them and post them to your parish website. Everything from the music, to throwing rice, UC, wearing appropriate clothing (go naked to your reception if you want, but come clothed while in God’s house), etc should be covered and clearly state what is permitted, prohibited, highly encouraged, etc.

    A suggestion for the couple (and sadly the mother of the bride and wedding planner). Don’t start planning your Mass or ceremony until AFTER you have talked to the pastor/priest/deacon/wedding coordinator/etc. In most dioceses you have to contact the church where you will get married 6 months before your wedding date. Six months is plenty of time to work out the wedding Mass/ceremony details.

  • Christine

    My husband and I got married in a protestant church with a Catholic priest present, and we had a unity candle. It wouldn’t light until the last possible second. Symbolic? I don’t know, but it’s one of those things you keep in the back of your head. I’d recommend leaving it out.

  • Brad

    My wife and I got married this past August. We talked about the unity candle. Our bishop has directed it not be used unless for pastoral reasons. As two Catholics we saw no reason to push for it. I had read many of the same things you did and my bride didn’t really care so we skipped it all together. I’m glad we did. It seems like most of the time it creates akward dead space. Now what surprised our guests was that father said our nuptial Mass ad orientum. We loved it because we weren’t on display and it wasn’t a pageant dedicated to us. We also opted for congregational hymns instead of endless solos. I think that made the hour and fifteen minutes pass quickly even for our Protestant friends. I can’t reccomend enough a good program to help non everyone especially non Catholics follow along.

  • liz

    Unity candles are so protestant and pedestrian. Don’t do it! Only thing worse is unity sand or unity water. I was at a wedding a few weeks ago and the priest in his homily noted how cheesy a unity candle and it’s “symbol.” He said a real unity candle would be if you melted two candles together into one, as a married couple becomes one flesh around the wick (Christ) which you must keep lit (faith).

    If you want to do something “extra” / cool – get married on the Cross (

  • Aunt Stephanie

    Several of us in our parish office were discussing the issue of the Unity Candle with one of our priests. He had just finished a Nuptial Mass and was waiting for the witnesses to sign the documents. As Father explained, unity of the families is expressed in the Consecration and in the Eucharist when the bread and wine become the Body and Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. A Unity candle is duplicating in a poor way that which has already occurred. An option in our parish is reverencing a statue of our Blessed Mother and presenting her with flowers. If God grants me my desire for a husband I look forward to giving thanks to Him and to His Holy Mother. May God bless you as you embark on this new journey in your life.

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  • mary e.

    I was told by our priest that it was our decision to make, but that the tradition actually began from a soap opera (or became popularized) by General Hospital’s Luke and Laura. Since it’s actually part of the liturgy and just something added on, we won’t do it.