Thursday, June 5, 2008


There are still more candles that we use. The processional candles are used at the head of the procession in honor guard fashion with the processional cross. They lead the Gospel procession during the Gospel Alleluia. They can also appear at other significant times such as at Stations of the Cross.

“Torches” are another time in which candles are used. Six servers enter the sanctuary and kneel around the altar from the Sanctus until the Our Father. These also play the double of role of symbolizing Christ as well as marking His presence among us in this significant way.

You may notice candles on the walls around your Church. These candles are placed on the places on the wall where the bishop has anointed and consecrated the building for sacred use. On those spots a plain cross is to be painted, sculpted, or hung, in front of which a candle may burn. The oil used to consecrate is called “Chrism” which derives its name from Christ. The candles then, once again, symbolize Christ as well as marking His presence.

In fact, all candles prescribed to use during Catholic Liturgies symbolize Christ with one exception. During Tenebrae there is a special “candelabra” of sorts which contains fifteen candles. Tradition says that only the upper most candle represents Christ while the other the eleven faithful disciples (the service takes place during Holy Week) and the three Maries. This service had been suppressed but it is finding a resurgence in many parishes.

You may see a few more candles about that have not been mentioned in this series. Some are simply not prescribed (but not necessarily banned) by the Church and there may actually be a few more that I have missed. (If you think of any, please let me know save for vigil candles which will round out this series next week.) But you will have marked that in each case they candles represent Christ. That is our symbolic language and unlike some of our symbolic language, these symbols are coded. This is why so many priests frown upon the unity candle. These candles do not represent Christ or His consuming of Himself on our behalf, but pretty lights that represent two people. The snuffing out as part of the ceremony comes terribly close to signifying death or the loss of Christ – or at least the loss of the idea of “a flame divided but undimmed.” It certainly is dimmed. Two people have just been obliterated. Then when the final candle is lit, it too does not represent Christ as does every single other candle in the sanctuary. It represents the new couple but to what end?

It is possible to make up all kinds of symbolism for this ceremony and decent symbolism at that, but it will always be in competition with what is happening liturgically. Of course, even after coming to an understanding of all of this there will be people who still want to add this to their wedding though occasionally some will move it to the reception where it is most fitting. In the end the Catholic Church will not be destroyed by the Unity Candle but we should have a very clear understanding of what it is we are doing when we do use it in order to avoid falling into the error that all of the candles used in Church are just pretty lights to do with as we wish.


Anonymous said...

Yeah..if I ever get married, NO WAY am I going to have a unity candle.

Adrienne said...

Our pastor doesn't allow unity candles. He just explains why not...

Anonymous said...

Father, I have really enjoyed reading about candles! What beautiful symbols of Christ, Our Light!

Even before I reverted to Catholicism, and even though I've attended mostly non-Catholic weddings, the unity candle always bothered me for one of the reasons you mention, Father: the flame gets snuffed out!--so, what does that say about the union between the spouses? It seems rather careless to me.

But I have always taken symbolism pretty seriously, which may go to show that a girl may take herself out of Catholicism, but she can't necessarily take Catholicism out of her. Not completely, anyway!

I just thank God I'm back!

God be with you, Father.

Fr. V said...

Dear practicing,

And thank you! How wonderful you've come back to the sacraments. May God bless you abundantly!