The Unity Candle

July 10, 2018

The Pastor's Page

The Unity Candle The Unity Candle is a three-candle display, all white in color, one larger pillar candle in the center, flanked by two smaller taper candles, one on each side. Ordinarily they are placed on a Unity Candle stand or a table draped with a cloth. The display is never placed on the altar. The placement may be somewhere in the sanctuary that does not obstruct the view of the altar, pulpit, presider’s chair, or the couple, or may be placed outside but near the sanctuary.

The ceremonial lighting of the Unity Candle is not a part of The Order of Celebrating Matrimony in the Catholic Church. It is not allowed in some dioceses and parishes because it is not included in the ritual, or because those present for the exchange of vows witness the complete Sacrament of Marriage, the sacrament is powerful and stands fully on its own, a symbol is anticlimactic following the real thing, and a symbol does not supplement or augment it.

In many dioceses and parishes, the Unity Candle ceremony is permitted. It is a relatively new tradition that has much sentimental value. It provides the couple an opportunity to act together immediately. The ceremony is elegant, beautiful, and a memorable moment.

When the Unity Candle ceremony is celebrated, it comes after the blessing and giving of rings and before the Universal Prayer or the Prayers of the Faithful. The taper candles usually are lit before the liturgy, often by the mothers, but also possibly by relatives or friends, or if no one is designated, by the sacristan, or the taper candles are lit as the first part of the ceremony itself. Then the bride and groom each take a lit taper candle, and together simultaneously light the pillar candle. The taper candles are returned to their holders and usually left burning. The larger center candle is a symbol that is interpreted in a number of different ways.

The Married Couple. The usual understanding is that one taper candle represents the bride, the other represents the groom, and that the pillar candle represents the bride and groom joined together as a married couple. While each retains their individuality, represented by the taper candles that continue to burn, “they are no longer two but one flesh” (Mk 10:8).

Jesus. The lighted pillar candle represents Jesus who is the light of the world (Jn 8:12). When the bride and groom light the pillar candle, they declare that Jesus is the center of their marriage, that they are joined together by him, that the sacramental grace that he supplies will sustain them and hold them together, and that they will individually and jointly follow his light.

The Sacrament of Marriage. The taper candles represent the baptismal candles of the bride and groom, as well as their faith in Jesus and their commitments to live their lives as his disciples. Baptism is the first Sacrament of Initiation. Then after the reception of Eucharist and Confirmation and the completion of the Sacraments of Initiation, the bride and groom indicate as they light the pillar candle that they intend to live out their baptismal faith as adults in the Sacrament of Marriage, their Sacrament of Commitment.

A New Family. The taper candles represent the immediate families of the bride and groom, their parents and siblings, and from their two families of origin, the pillar candle represents the new family that has begun with their marriage.

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About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

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