Saturday, May 29, 2010

Catholic Wedding Sand Ceremony

The Sand Ceremony is often compared to the Unity Candle Ceremony. Both are two physical displays of the unifying power of marriage. The unity candle ceremony is quite new to wedding traditions (it originated in Protestant churches about 40 years ago); later in the century, couples searched for ways to complete a unifying act without the use of candles. A sand ceremony can easily replace a unity candle ceremony in a Catholic wedding.

The Facts

In a Sand Ceremony, the bride and the groom each hold a small glass vase full of sand. At a specified time, each takes a turn pouring some of their sand into a larger glass vase. Then they pour in the remaining sand at the same time. The ceremony symbolizes the Biblical concept of two individuals becoming one. A third small vase is often used by the officiant who pours in sand representing God and His omnipresence in the life of the new couple. A sand ceremony can be used in any kind of ceremony, religious or not, but a Catholic sand ceremony will include text spoken by the priest during the pouring. Usually the two (or three) small vases contain different colors of sand, so the resulting larger vase is a beautiful blend of colors. The large vase is kept as a treasured memento of the union.

Although it is somewhat difficult to determine from where the sand ceremony originates, it is often thought to have begun in Hawaii, where the bride and groom scoop sand from the beach at their feet into their vases for the ceremony. Some argue that this type of ceremony originated with Native Americans thousands of years ago. Regardless, the sand ceremony is gaining in popularity and received a well-televised boost when it was featured on a wedding spin-off of The Bachelorette in 2003. The sand ceremony holds little or no history in the Catholic Church.

The most commonly known sand ceremony involves sand in two or three smaller vases being poured simultaneously into one larger vase to signify two becoming one. Another option is when couples only use the two small vases and together pour the sand into the wind. In this case the ceremony must be outdoors and the couple should take care to throw it with the wind and not against it. If children are involved in the ceremony, they can pour in a vase of sand also. All of these variations would be religiously acceptable in a Catholic wedding.

The overall significance of the sand ceremony is the visual imagery of the union of marriage. Often the groom pours part of his sand first, symbolizing the foundation of the marriage. The bride then adds her sand to symbolize her support. When they both pour the remainder of their sand together, the colors mix in harmony and equality. Some couples choose to leave a small amount of sand in their individual vases to signify their individuality. The Catholic wedding ceremony stresses the unity and commitment of marriage; a sand ceremony certainly supports this belief and further symbolizes that the two that have become one can never again be separated.


The Sand Ceremony is not a Catholic tradition and therefore is not present in the Catholic Rite of Marriage. Your officiant may decline to include it for this reason. Regulations on the inclusion of procedures not present in the Rite of Marriage differ from parish to parish. Some say that this celebration of unity is somewhat repetitious as the Catholic ceremony already celebrates unity through liturgy, prayer, and the administration of a sacrament.