The Sweet Christian Bride

The Tradition of the Unity Candle

by admin on June 27, 2011 in Ceremony Traditions with 2 Comments

A favorite Christian wedding tradition is the lighting of the unity candle.  The set-up includes three candles: one that represents the bride, one that represents the groom, and one that represents their covenant marriage.

The way that the candles are lit reflects the leaving and cleaving of the bride and groom.  Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” 

Usually the mothers of the bride and groom light the bride’s and groom’s candles, the two outside candles, to mark the symbolism that out of their families the bride and groom came.  This step is most commonly done after the mothers are walked down the aisle and before the bridal party enters.

After the vows are exchanged, or after the pastor prounounces the bride and groom as husband and wife, the bride and groom move towards the candles, each taking their own lit candle and lighting together the middle pillar candle, symbolizing their two lives becoming one.

Being a fairly modern addition to the Christian wedding ceremony, the tradition stems more out of conceptual symbolism than out of historic ritual.  For example, the concepts that Jesus is the Light and that we are to let our lights shine before men in order to reflect God’s glory (Matthew 5:16) make the use of flames a poetic depiction of two Christian lives becoming one.  Once the two flames merge and create a new flame, there is no way to then separate out the two individual flames.  They are inextricably one.

God appeared to Moses in a burning bush.  Moses’ response was to “turn aside and look at this great sight”(Exodus 3:3).  Lighting the unity candles, with the understanding that the joining of two into one is the work of the same God who appeared in fire on the bush and in the pillar and to whom darkness is as light (Psalm 139:12), gives opportunity for the bride and groom, and for all the guests, to marvel at the work that God has done in this covenant marriage. 

“So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:6).

As a bride, how can you take this rich covenant symbol and personalize it for you and your fiancé?

Some prefer to have the candles already lit before the guests enter.  This symbolism would lean more towards the candles representing you and your fiancé, and the unity candle symbolizing your one flesh.  Having your mothers (or mothers and fathers) light them, however, would lean more towards the candles as symbols of your families.  The unity candle would then symbolize the joining of families.  Neither choice eradicates the other; it is simply an emphasis on your perspective of the symbolism.

Also, some prefer to blow the bride’s and groom’s candles out after the unity candle is lit.  This would symbolize the fact that there no longer exists the one without the other, since they are now one flesh.  Another perspective would be to keep the bride’s and groom’s candles lit, even after the unity candle is lit, because the joining into one flesh does not extinguish the individual masterpiece that God created you each to be, or in other words, the bride and groom do not lose themselves by being married;  conversely, they find themselves more precisely by being one flesh in a covenant marriage.

Other ways that you can make this tradition your own are by choosing to offer a narration of the symbolism while the candles are being lit, or by abstaining from narration and instead having a musical piece accompany the lighting.  Also, you could stray from the traditional white pillar and taper candles and instead use candles that are symbolic of your heritage, that are of your favorite color, or that were given to you by a special mentor in your life.

Whatever twist you decide to put on this tradition, if you decide to use it, you can now do so knowing what lighting the unity candle means in regards to the covenant marriage. 

Photo © John Yao, SimplyTwo Photography, featuring Dorinda and Peseng’s wedding

By Lindsay

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