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For Your Marriage

The Unity Candle

Chances are if you’ve been to a wedding in the past couple of decades, you’ve seen something called a “Unity Candle” ceremony. At some point in the ceremony, the parents of the couple being married– or maybe just their mothers– light two small side candles, and then the bride and groom take those candles and light a larger candle. They may or may not blow out the side candles, which, one hopes, doesn’t reflect their feelings about their families of origin.

No one seems really clear about the origin of the Unity Candle. Some claim it was popularized by the 1981 wedding of television’s Luke and Laura on General Hospital, although there’s evidence of its use in the mid-1970s. Some sources claim it was developed as a way to sell couples three pounds of wax for $50 dollars.

In many Catholic churches, the Unity Candle is discouraged or prohibited. It isn’t part of our wedding ritual. Liturgy requires inculturation, but it’s not clear that a Unity candle is part of anyone’s culture.

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.