Monday, October 8, 2007


Consider what happens at a Catholic wedding ceremony.

1. In the introductory rite the priest explains that a man and woman are about to exchange vows before God and this congregation.
2. Then the couple must answer questions publicly that they understand and desire Catholic-wedding vows.
3. Then they actually exchange vows.
4. Then the priest announces that they have exchanged the vows.
5. If people still don’t get it, they exchange rings.
6. If people still don’t get it, they kiss each other.
7. If people still don’t get it, at the end the priest says, “I now present Mr. and Mrs. Snodgrass.”

For some reason some people fear that it may not yet be clear to the congregation what exactly has happened so the bride takes a candle, "This represents me," and the groom takes a candle "And this represents me," and then they light a whopping big and expensive candle, "And this is us together after we mortgage the house and eat a lot of pasta." Then they blow out their individual candles to show that their individual self is now obliterated.

A little redundant.

There are also some symbolically theological problems. At mass the light of the candle is always Christ, not individuals. At baptism a candle is lit from the Paschal Candle (the Christ candle) and handed to the person who was baptized (or his family) and told, “Receive the Light of Christ.” At the Easter Vigil when the fire and the Paschal candle is blessed the people receive the Light of Christ, “a flame divided but undimmed.” The flame never represents an individual person. Thus the unity candle (a phenominon accuring only in the last 30 years or so) in the context of a Church service is not only redundant, it works against the symbolism of the rite.

I used to tell couples that the unity candle was a Protestant ceremony that made its way into the Catholic Church. Then I found out that the Protestant churches in town were saying that it was a Catholic ceremony that made its way into the Protestant Church. We agreed to say that it was a Hallmark ceremony that made its way into a religious setting. “Expertsseem equally divided spreading the blame among Catholics, Protestants, candle manufacturers, and revitalized ancient Pagan rites.

That is not to say that in a proper context that it might seems a nice thing to do. For example, it could be really cool thing to do at the reception; a nice ceremony in which all the in-laws could participate showing the uniting of families (a far better tradition than the stripping of the garter from the new wife’s leg and throwing it to a bunch of hungry bachelors).

I find the vast majority of Catholic brides who hear this immediately say, “Of course we won’t do this at the mass!” But it isn’t just weddings, we should always be on guard to improving or adding to the mass. It is not “mine” to customize, it is “ours” to be fed by. It belongs to the Church as a public ceremony, which is exactly what all masses and weddings are, and anybody in attendance has the right to celebrate the mass as the Church intends.
Pope Benedict has said that we must guard against, "the almost theatrical entrance of different players into the liturgy, which is so common today . . . if the liturgy degenerates into general activity, then we have radically misunderstodd the 'theo-drama' of the liturgy and lapsed almost into parady."

Besides who really needs to store yet something else on their closet shelf?


uncle jim said...



and AMEN!

Anonymous said...

Good heavens, you're right. I never saw it that way. To tell you the truth, back in '83 I'd felt there was too much a burden on us, the couple, to privatize the nuptial Mass. I had to really struggle to select songs, to personalize vows, as did my fiancee. It really wasn't us, all that.. we just wanted to be married for life in the eyes of the Church as well as those of others, for it was already settled within ourselves.

We did indeed purchase a candle (which would be the equivalent of $75 today, I think), but I can't recall if it was used during Mass or not! Every year, tho', we relight it on our anniversary, and keep it going for the eve, as a reminder-sign to ourselves and to our kids, that it's truly a special day. We are always reminded of that incredible day by this tall candle that will outlast our every anniversary there could ever be.

Fr. V said...

It would be interesting to know if all those candles are brought out of the closet and out of box on the wedding anniversaries like that - or do they become forgotten and thrown away . . .

uncle jim said...

I'd hope they come out occasionally.

It was not a custom back in the days when we tied the knot.

Although a similar but different thing I see these days is the parents, or mothers, of the two families doing a candle thing to signify the union of the two families. kinda hokey, if you ask me, but then I'm just an O/F.

Anonymous said...

This was an interesting post to me. I do see your point about the theological symbolism being skewed. We did have a unity candle at our wedding with the words "Two Become One" on it (we also had Epeshians 5 as one of our readings). The candle is on display in our house next to 2 wedding crosses we received that day.

Brother Declan said...

My wife and I were worried what our young Cleveland priest would say when we told him we did not want anything to do with the "Unity Candle." We were pleased when he responded "Thank God."

On another subject, when will Bishop Lennon do something about the bizzarre orans position that the congregation is using during the Our Father? My family can't always make it to the Latin Mass.

Odysseus said...

It woould be nice if we could stop making stuff up (holding hands, unity candles) and being pressured to make things up (vows, wedding arrangements) and just do things like our ancestors did.

I became much more conservative and traditional when I began to wonder why I had to do everything different than my grandfather did.

Anonymous said...

After reading this post and Fr V's comment about it would be interesting to know if the wedding candles were brought out on anniversaries, I thought hmm.. I think I remember having one of those. Sure enough, it's sitting in the wall unit in my living room. Looks like it hasn't been lit since the second or third anniversary (we just celebrated our 25th). I do like candles and have several around that I like to light but obviously had forgotten about that one!

Fr. V said...

Rob -

I grew up in a parish that did Vatican II but was very loyal to its roots and tradition of the Church (I didn't know Latin was controversial and unused until I left there and went to the seminary!)and I had the same thought as you - what is all the fuss? What did my grandparents do that is no so terrible? Now I just realize it was poor theology/liturgy against which I was reacting.

DAG - Nobody has to do the orans position. NOBODY. Well, accept the priest. I would find it annoying but far less so than holding hands. There is nothing written either way about it - not that it should be done or that it shouldn't - so what is he to say? I'd just stop.

Ellen - I hope you didn't think I thought they were evil - they just do not belong inside the mass.

MJ - 25 years! Light that baby up!

Anonymous said...

Seems a lot of us have seen or coming onto 25 years marriage. Great. We had the unity candle in '83 as well. I thought it was something that was "supposed" to be done.

Regarding the orans position at the "Our Father"...I'm so glad that isn't written down somewhere that it's mandatory. My husband seems to be a fan of doing this, but I have never felt comfortable doing so.

Cathy_of_Alex said...

I end up rolling my eyes and gagging when that unity candle comes out. Mercifully, I've never seen it at a Catholic wedding.

No one I know that had one at their wedding held onto it.