The Business of the Pastor is, in many Parts, the very Substance of Ritual. Some of the most moving and meaningful Moments of my Ministry are composed of Rite and Sacrament; Baptisms, the Lord’s Supper, Funerals, and, of course, Weddings. These Things Done, these Practices ancient and redolent with Power therefore, are at the very Core of the Cleric’s Work, the Warp and Woof of a Pastor’s Tapestry.
It causes me Alarum, therefore, to note that Weddings, especially, are becoming overtopped, with vain or troubling Ceremony. Traditionally, each Part and Piece of the Service is carefully considered, contributing to the Unity of the Whole. As the wedding Industry has become a Creature of Fashion, and of the prevailing Winds of our Society, the Demand for Uniquity has proceeded apace, and the Art of Wedding Liturgy has become top-lofty with unnecessary, meaningless, and problematic Ceremony.
Thus, I begin my new Series, De ritibus, which explores some of the Options and Alternatives for additional Ritual in your Service of Marriage. In this first Iteration, we discuss the Unity Candle, its Meaning, and its Implications for your Marriage.
When first I began to attend Weddings, I bore witness to this particular Rite – the Couple being wed, each having lit a Taper, would then, together, light a larger, single Column, to symbolize their Unity in Flame. Having lit the larger Wick, the Participants will then usually blow out their individual Tapers, as Words describing Symbol and Act are read out by the Officiant. The two Persons, in the old Tradition of Scripture, become One Flesh, leaving behind entirely their prior Lives and welding one another together into one Family. At least, that’s the Idea.
As a Christian and inheritor of the Jewish tradition thereby, I am, of course, moved by Candles in General. That’s all well and good. Too, there is something fundamentally beautiful about the Creation of a single Thing from its disparate Elements, which lies at the very Heart of Marriage. Truly, there is much that is deep and powerful about this Ceremony, and I have no Objection to much of the Concept, but rather to a point of Execution.
My Difficulty lies with one particular Portion of the Act, as each Person blows out the Flame which represents their individual Personhood. I find this profoundly distressing, as I am a proponent of Individuals, and their Rights and Obligations to Self-Determination and -Differentiation. The Erasure of the Individual is a dangerous Fallacy – neither Party to a Marriage should or will cease to exist as any part of the Agreement between them. They will surely be altered by the process, but the Abnegation at play in this Rite as it is described above is a Falsehood, and a toxic one.
My Solution, if the Ceremony speaks to you, is a simple one. Mere change the centre Candle in the following Way – add a second Wick, thus:
Of a sudden, the Candle which symbolises your Unity now names also your Duality. Like the Blessed Trinity, you are at once two Persons, and One. You lose Nothing, and gain Everything. This is a deep Mystery, exactly as Marriage is, and all the most precious Wonders of the Universe.
On Trinity Sunday, most Years, I present just such a Light to my Students, and ask them the Question: “How many Candles have I here?” Responding they “Three,” I point out that there is but one Wax. Responding “One,” I indicate that the Lights are triune. It is this cyclical Movement, this Tide of Thought which is the Centre of Mystery, and which lives in a truly mystic Unity Candle.
I am not displeased to perform this Ceremony for you, but I pray that you will buy into the meaning that I here attach, and that each of you will respect the Other sufficiently that you can let them keep their own Light shining. Indeed – is that not why you loved them first?