May 1, 2009

Unity Candle Rant

When you live the life of junior parochial vicar on a parish staff, sometimes you wonder what you might do differently if you were in charge. Any new pastor brings changes, so what would change if it were me? What would be suppressed, and what restored? You can't help but think about it. But I'll tell you one thing that would be forbidden if I were pastor: the dreaded wedding or "unity" candle.

You're familiar with it: typically it's a set of three candles; two slighter ones flanking a large one. The idea is that, just as two people are united in marriage, so the flames from the smaller candles unite to ignite the large one. To be honest, it's actually a nice symbol, and if you can get the bride and groom to produce their actual baptismal candles to serve as the two smaller lights, even better.

But here's the problem: it's just one more example of how we focus on "nice" and accessible symbols instead of facing the subtle and transcendent mysteries that are before us in the liturgy.

I encourage couples to skip the "unity candle" that they might focus on the Word of God speaking to them, their sacramental consent to one another, and (in most cases) the sacrifice of the Eucharist offered for them during their first moments as newlyweds. Isn't that enough to do for one day, without adding in these bonus features?


Matt G. said...

In some instances, the unity candle can be a good way to get across the sacramentality of a wedding in a secretive way. My mom got remarried last year and since they did not want a religious ceremony I got legal designation from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to "preside" at the wedding and legally announce them as married. It was kind of cool to be up there at the "altar" although it would have been cooler if I were in vestments (everyone called me "Father" after the service was over and I got more than one person tell me that I 'looked very comfortable at the front of the church.')

Anyway, I insisted on the unity candle for the purposes of stressing the sacramental unity put forth in Scripture. I guess it was my way of making the ceremony more religious even when it was exclusively civil. I can be sneaky that way....

ben in denver said...

I don't like unity candles either.

It is interesting that the rise of the unity candle has occurred concommitantly with the collapse in the belief in the indissolubility of marriage.

I similarly find the symbolism of fecundity of the unity candle where the two flames give rise to a new one highly ironic in the day in age when the world counsels newly married couples to delay having their first child until they have lived together as a married couple for a few years.

The one para-liturgical action I really do like at weddings is when the bride leaves her bouquet at the altar of Mary, to me it symbolizes that the woman takes up the role of motherhood at the same time she takes up the role of wife--that she is really joined with the Church in all of those prayers for fecundity that we hear in the liturgy proper.

Brother Charles said...

Matt: Of course we are talking here about "sacramentality" only on the farthest edges of illiceity and only if and only if the parties were both validly baptized and free to marry.

Ben: the offering of flowers at Our Lady's altar is alive and well here at our parish, and I appreciate it too. I usually have them do it after the communion procession but before the Prayer after Communion.