Lighting the Flame of Love
Lighting a unity candle is a beautiful and moving addition to the wedding ceremony. The lighting of candles has long been practiced in cultural and religious rituals, but the unity candle ceremony is relatively new. As such, there are no set rules on how to perform a unity candle ceremony.
The unity candle is normally lit once the wedding vows and wedding rings have been exchanged. The ceremony can be performed at the church altar, off to the side of the altar or even outside. Unless the day is perfectly calm and windless you may want to avoid lighting the unity candle outside - it may be difficult to light and your dress may get wrecked.
The unity candle ceremony involves three candles; a candle each for the bride and groom and a single candle representing their union. The individual tapers can be lit prior to or during the unity candle ceremony. A nice touch is to have the parents light their child's taper than hand it to them. This act symbolizes the continuity of family and the sharing of the "eternal light of life". The couple use their individual tapers to light the one large candle together. The lighting of the single candle symbolizes two individuals joining as one.
Once the unity candle has been lit, there are two options for the individual tapers. They can be extinguished, signifying the couple's willingness to put the needs of their marriage before their individual needs. Or the individual tapers can remain lit, symbolizing the individual strengths the bride and groom contribute to their union. Some couples choose to incorporate a small prayer or blessing during the lighting of the unity candle. This old Irish blessing is particularly sweet:
" May the blessing of light be on you -
light without and light within.
May the blessed sunlight shine on you
and warm your heart
till it glows like a great fire. "
Unity candles are not associated with any one religion. However, they may be discouraged from more conservative Catholic or Jewish services as the unity candle is not strictly part of the wedding liturgy. Therefore it is more common to see unity candles at Protestant or non-religious wedding ceremonies.