Although each ceremony will vary in length and style based on the religious and cultural traditions incorporated, there are many common elements in every wedding. Here is an overview of the typical wedding ceremony and what to expect during your own.
Simply put, this is the part where everyone in the wedding party makes their way to the front of the church. Uncertain about who walks down the aisle when and with whom? Check out our article entitled “The Procession” to clear up any confusion!
Giving the Bride Away
Once the bride and her father are standing at the front of the church, the officiant asks “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” The bride’s father responds “I do” or “Her mother and I.” He then turns to his daughter and lifts the blusher veil (if she is wearing one), kisses her on the cheek and joins his wife in the front pew. The congregation may be seated after the father has taken his seat.
Traditionally, the father of the bride gives the bride away. But sometimes death or divorce has changed the circumstances. The bride should choose whoever she feels the most comfortable with. She may choose her stepfather (if her mother is remarried), her brother, her grandfather, a close uncle, a close male friend, or even her mother to give her away.
In the case of a second marriage, it is still appropriate for the bride to be escorted by her father. Instead of asking, “Who gives this woman…?” the officiant may ask, “Who blesses this union…?” Alternatively, it is also quite common for second-time brides walk down the aisle with their grooms, with one of their children, or alone.
Beginning the Service
As the father of the bride and congregation are being seated, the officiant turns and walks to the altar followed by the bride and groom, the maid of honor and the best man, then the flower girl and the ring bearer. At this point the bride hands her flowers to her maid of honor. The officiant will then proceed with the dialogue for the wedding ceremony.
Exchanging Rings and Vows
When it is time, the best man hands the bride’s ring to the officiant who blesses it and returns it to the groom. The groom then places it on his bride’s ring finger on her left hand after repeating his vows. (Her engagement ring, if separate, should be worn on her right hand during the ceremony.)
Then the maid of honor hands the groom’s ring to the officiant who blesses it and hands it to the bride. She places it on the groom’s ring finger on his left hand after repeating her vows.
Finally after a blessing and a prayer – maybe a song or two, the minister says “I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride.” The groom kisses the bride and the recessional begins.
You’ve kissed, you’ve been pronounced husband and wife, now how do you get from the front of the church into your limousine? The bride takes her flowers from her maid of honor and then the bride and groom leave the sanctuary, followed by the flower girl and ring bearer and then the maid of honor and best man. They are followed by the other attendants who step forward and pair off with one usher escorting one bridesmaid.
Next the mothers are escorted out, bride’s mother first, and then the grandmothers, bride’s grandmothers first. After the grandmothers, the guests are welcome to stand and file out from front to back.
Planning the Ceremony
Planning your ceremony does not have to be an overwhelming task! Here is what you should do…
1. Reserve the Ceremony Site.
First and foremost you need to secure the location, date and time of the ceremony, as soon as possible! Don’t make any other arrangements for the ceremony until you have these details established! Many places book weddings over a year in advance. If you have your heart set on a particular church or other venue, you may need to be flexible with your date and time.
2. Select your officiant.
If you are having your ceremony in a church or synagogue, they will probably require you to use their minister or rabbi. However if you are having your ceremony at another site, you will likely need to find an officiant to perform the ceremony. In Michigan marriages may be solemnized by any of the following:
Federal, probate, district, and municipal judges, and district court magistrates, in their court area
Mayors, in their city
Ministers of the gospel, anywhere in the state, “if the minister is ordained or authorized to solemnize marriages according to the usages of the denomination, and is a pastor of a church in this state, or continues to preach the gospel in this state.”
Non-resident ministers of the gospel, anywhere in the state, if the minister is authorized to solemnize marriages by his or her state’s laws.
3. Plan the ceremony with your officiant.
The details of the wedding ceremony are planned with your officiant. Most churches have certain guidelines that they follow so anything out of the ordinary must be approved. For example, if you want to write your own vows, you must ask your minister or rabbi for permission.
Of course, if your wedding does not incorporate a strong religious element, you will have a great deal of latitude when it comes to designing your ceremony. In this case, the only limitations are likely to be your own imagination and the cooperative input of your officiant.
When planning the ceremony with your minister or officiant you will need to discuss the following things:
The date and time of the wedding
The length of the ceremony
The number of guests you are expecting
Any restrictions for flowers and decorations
Any restrictions on music
Any restrictions for photography and video
Any restrictions for a reception held at the church/site
Suggestions for music and musicians
The time the florist may enter the church to decorate
The time you may begin pictures
The dressing room
What substance (such as birdseed) is allowed to be thrown outside the building
The parking and traffic situations – should you hire a traffic officer
Fees for church, officiant, music, etc.
Times for the rehearsal
4. Premarital Counseling
Most religious officiants will require that you both attend at least one premarital counseling session in which you will discuss your feelings about commitment, children, religion and other related topics. In the first counseling session, some ministers require that both you and your fiancé fill out a long questionnaire in private. In the sessions following, you will go over all of the questions and discuss in depth those questions that you answered differently.
Some officiants require multiple sessions of counseling that are scheduled up to 6 months before the wedding, so make sure that you plan well in advance to complete all of the requirements before the wedding.
5. Arrange for Music
Plan for all of the music to be played before, during and after the ceremony. Music can add a lot to your ceremony, whether it is incorporating soloists or simple instrumentals, music sets the mood and atmosphere for the ceremony. Be sure to plan closely with both your officiant and musicians in regards to music selection and appropriate placement in the ceremony. Also, you can use Ewing’s Mobile DJ Service for your sound. Contact us for details on that.
Again depending on your ceremony site and officiant your musicians and music selection may be limited. Many churches require you that you use their organists, musicians, and soloists. Some churches restrict the types of music you can use during the ceremony.
The rehearsal is mainly a chance for the officiant to meet your wedding party and acquaint everyone with the basics of the ceremony. Think of it as a dry run of the big day and a time to get the jitters out of your system!
The rehearsal is very important, so don’t even think about skipping it!! Even if you are confident in your role, other people in the ceremony may need some practice and guidance before the big day.
When is the rehearsal?
The rehearsal is usually held the night before the wedding at the ceremony site itself. If that time is inconvenient for any of your key players or the site is unavailable, reschedule for another time; preferably within the week before the wedding so that people won’t have time to forget what they have learned.
Who should attend the rehearsal?
The people who should attend the rehearsal are basically anyone who has a role to play in the actual ceremony.
The bride and groom, of course!
Every member of the wedding party
The father of the bride
Wedding consultant (if applicable)
Featured soloists or musicians
Florist/to discuss final issues of flower placement (optional)
Photographer and videographer (optional)
What should I bring to the rehearsal?
You might want to bring along the following items to the rehearsal. You will need some things for the actual rehearsal and some for the wedding day. This way, you won’t have to worry about forgetting them on your way to the ceremony on your big day.
Fee for site & officiant
Toasting goblets for the reception
Cake knife and server
Seating cards for the reception
Maps or written directions
Wedding day transportation information
Gifts for the attendants (if you will be presenting them at the rehearsal dinner afterwards)
Remember, the rehearsal is a chance to iron out last-minute details. Don’t get upset if things don’t go smoothly during the rehearsal—they almost never do, but that’s the whole point! Make sure that everything is ready and that all of the participants know what’s expected of them. Try to have fun and take it all in!
“You may be seated”…sounds simple right? Surprisingly there’s a great deal of etiquette and tradition for wedding ceremony seating that you and your ushers should be aware of!
In a Christian ceremony the bride’s friends and family usually sit on the left side of the church and the groom’s sit on the right (when looking from the back to front). The reverse is true for Reform and Conservative Jewish weddings. If one side has many more guests than the other, you may want to dispense with this custom and seat everyone together to achieve a more balanced look.
When a couple arrives, the usher should take the woman’s arm and escort her to her seat; her escort will follow. The oldest woman should be seated first, if several guests arrive together.
Special Seating Arrangements
The first three or four rows of pews or chairs should be reserved for family and very special friends. No one else should be seated there. The people whom you want to sit in the reserved seating should be notified by pew cards or word of mouth. In some cases these rows are sectioned off by ribbons, meaning they are reserved.
Note: Be certain that your ushers are aware of all special seating arrangements!
Traditionally, your mother and father sit in the first row with your siblings in the second. If you only have one or two unmarried siblings or limited space, they can be seated next to your parents. Grandparents sit in the third row, close friends and relatives in the fourth and so on.
Seating Divorced Parents
In case of divorce, the bride/groom’s natural mother traditionally has the privilege of sitting in the first row. If your divorced parents have remained amicable, then your father may sit directly behind your mother in the second row or with her in the first. Otherwise your father may be seated a few rows farther back. However, if you were raised by your stepmother and wish to give her the honor, she and your father may sit in the first row, while your mother sits further back.
“Please Be Seated”
Guests should be seated by ushers as they arrive, from front to back. The mothers of the bride and groom should be seated just before the ceremony begins. Late arriving guests are not escorted to their seats by ushers. They should take seats near the back, preferably via a side aisle.
Confused about who walks down the aisle when and with whom? The following is an example of a typical processional order. You may, of course wish to alter it in conjunction with your officiant so that it is right for your ceremony.
1. The Mothers & Grandmothers
Just before the ceremony is scheduled to start and the guests have arrived and been seated, the mothers and grandmothers should be seated in the following manner.
First the grandmothers of the groom are seated—escorted by an usher and followed by their husbands. Then an usher escorts the grandmothers of the bride. The ushers for the grandmothers should be a member of their family if possible—sons, grandsons, etc.
Next the mother of the groom is ushered to her seat and is followed by her husband, if he is not in the wedding party.
Finally the mother of the bride is seated. The mothers should be escorted by one of their sons or another family member who is an usher or by the best man. The seating of the bride’s mother signals that the ceremony is starting. At this point the ushers may roll out an aisle runner if one is being used.
2. The Officiant & Groom
After the bride’s mother is seated and the wedding procession is formed in the vestibule, the officiant and the groom enter. They should walk in from the side and stand at the front,facing the guests. If the best man will not be escorting the maid of honor down the aisle, then he should enter with the groom. Traditionally the groom stands on the right side of the aisle with his best man slightly behind him and to his left.
3. The Attendants
There are many possibilities as to how the attendants can make their way to the front of the church.
The ushers can escort the bridesmaids down the aisle
If the ushers are walking separate from the bridesmaids or if you have more ushers than bridesmaids…
The ushers could walk down the aisle first in pairs or alone. Alternatively, the ushers could walk single file down a side aisle and stand at the front of the church facing the guests.
The bridesmaids follow either walking in pairs or alone.
Finally the maid or matron of honor. If there are both, the matron of honor goes first and then the maid of honor—so that the maid of honor stands closest to the bride.
Consider having the shortest attendants walk down the aisle first—at the front of the church they should line up with the men on the right and the women on the left and tallest to shortest with the shortest being farthest from the bride and groom.
Note: The hesitation step is a trend of the past. The attendants should simply walk down the aisle slowly and steadily!
4. The Flower Girl & Ring Bearer
Who comes first? This is one place where the wedding experts do not agree! Some think that the ring bearer should follow the flower girl and visa versa. This decision we will leave up to you!
If you are having one flower girl and one ring bearer, you could always have them walk together. Another nice alternative is to have two flower girls and one ring bearer; let the girls walk side by side followed by the ring bearer.
The flower girl typically takes her place on the left side of the church next to the maid of honor. The ring bearer typically takes his place on the right side of the church next to the best man. Other arrangements may be made for the children to sit with their parents during the ceremony depending on the child’s age and level of maturity.
5. The Bride
Finally the time has come…cue the music—”Here’s Comes the Bride”! At this point the congregation should stand and turn to watch the bride and her father their walk down the aisle. This is your time to shine.
Remember to walk slowly and take in the oohs and aahs! Take a moment to make eye contact with your groom as you proceed down the aisle; you don’t want to miss his reaction when he sees you for the first time in your wedding gown!
In Christian ceremonies the bride should walk on her father’s left. When she reaches the groom’s side, her father lets go of her arm and gives her hand to the groom. The congregation remains standing until the father sits down.
Tip: If you are having programs for your wedding, consider indicating the places where the guests should stand and sit. Otherwise your officiant should announce or motion to your guests when to stand and when to be seated. So many weddings are different and it is hard for the guests to know exactly what to do. Make it easy—spell it out!!
The Receiving Line
Do we really need to have a receiving line?
If you are like most people you have experienced an awkward moment or two in a wedding receiving line. Today, the receiving line is a formality that some couples decide to leave out of their wedding altogether. If you choose to axe this tradition, I’m sure your wedding party won’t be too disappointed. But don’t be too hasty in your decision…
The receiving line enables you, your groom, and key members of the wedding party to meet and greet your guests—which is very important, since you probably will not have time to meet with everyone at the reception. Imagine painstakingly choosing the perfect gift and traveling for hours to attend a wedding, and not even having the opportunity to congratulate the bride and groom!
When and where should the receiving line be formed?
The receiving line should form after the wedding ceremony but before the reception. If you are immediately proceeding from the ceremony to the reception, the line can be formed near the entrance of the reception site to greet the guests as they arrive.
If you and your groom are hanging around after the ceremony to take pictures or don’t want to rush to the reception, you should have the receiving line at the ceremony site. Be sure to check with your officiant first; some churches may have restrictions as to where the line may be formed. The most convenient spot is often near an exit or outside, where your guests can move through easily on their way to the reception.
Who traditionally stands in the receiving line?
The order from the head of the line is:
Honor Attendant (optional)
Although your bridesmaids traditionally join your families in the receiving line, this often makes for a slow and tedious process. Your best bet is to keep the receiving line small—your guests and attendants will thank you!
How do you properly “receive” your guests?
You should welcome your guests, thank them for coming, and introduce them to the other members of the wedding party. If a guest is unknown to you, your groom or someone else in your wedding party may introduce you. Graciously accept all of the congratulations, hugs, kisses and doting! Be friendly but brief, otherwise the line may become too long—and everyone, including you, will have much longer to wait until the reception begins!
Making Your Ceremony Unique
There are a number of elements you can add to your ceremony to personalize it. Following are some suggestions.
1. Explain the significance of the unity candle or combination of sand, if you are using one.
You may want to ask the person overseeing the ceremony to make a point of explaining the meaning of this symbol. Have your mothers light two individual candles, then you and your fiancé light the unity candle together (at an appropriate point in the ceremony) with the candles your mothers respectively lit. You can also do the combination of the sand where you (bride and groom) combine your jars of sand to make one big jar of sand using certain or favorite colors of your choice.
2. With your officiant, find appropriate places to update traditional wording.
For instance, many couples today prefer the phrase “Who presents this bride?” rather than “Who gives this bride?” Another option: “Who blesses this union?” Be sure to discuss such concerns in detail with your officiant.
3. Write your own vows.
Again, be sure to work closely with the officiant. Some places of worship may have to approve your altered vows ahead of time. Others may not allow any changes to be made.
4. Incorporate family reading sequences.
It is interesting to note that the fathers of today’s brides are being incorporated into the ceremony more than in years past. It is not uncommon now for the bride’s father to write a short passage on behalf of his family expressing happiness for new couple-to-be.
5. Thank your parents.
Your ceremony is a perfect opportunity to honor your parents publicly by asking a close family member to read a short composition of your own. (You can even read this yourself if you feel comfortable doing so.)
Another option for honoring your parents is to present them with a flower (perhaps a single rose) at the end of the ceremony, before you make your trip back up the aisle as husband and wife. Or have the bride present a flower to the groom’s parents and visa versa.
6. Use trumpets or a string quartet!
How about a fanfare instead of the typical organ processional and recessional? This can be a special touch that may fit into your budget more easily than you think.
7. Meet and greet.
In place of, or in addition to, the standard receiving line, you can dismiss the guests from their seats yourselves. This means that, after the recessional, you return to the front of the building and, pew by pew, do what the ushers would normally do. Greet each guest and direct him or her toward the exit. This approach gives you a chance to say hello to people who do not plan on attending the reception or may skip the receiving line.
8. Make up a wedding program.
A wedding program should include the schedule of your ceremony and the names of the bride, groom, bride’s parents, groom’s parents, all of the wedding attendants, and any other people you would like to thank or honor. At the back of the program you might thank your guests for coming and pass along your new address. (This can save you the step of printing up “at home” cards.)
Get creative! Don’t be afraid to add personal touches to your wedding ceremony to make it special and unique. The sky is the limit! Remember it’s your day, go ahead, create the dream wedding you have always wanted and will never forget!
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