It’s time to plan your wedding ceremony...now what?? Don’t feel badly...you’ve never had to do this before! I’ve outlined some of the most important aspect of a traditional wedding ceremony below.
Please note, I recommend strongly having a rehearsal of the ceremony before hand. In my years of wedding planning and photography I have seen so many beautiful ceremonies interrupted or distracted by people who didn’t know where to stand or groomsmen who make an inappropriate comment because they weren’t prepared. Please...for everyone’s sake, prepare your bridal party for this important event. I recommend 45 minutes for a rehearsal.
Start with everyone lined up at the front, where they will be during the ceremony. Then practice the recessional (when everyone exits the ceremony) in the order they leave in. Then, practice the processional (when everyone enters the ceremony) in the order they need to enter. That way, when they walk in, they already know where to walk to and stand.
Here is a diagram of where your bridal party typically stands during the ceremony:
This is the CliffsNotes “characters” section. In a traditional ceremony you will see:
An officiant (the person who is marrying you)
Maid of Honor (typically the one with most responsibilities, probably planned your bachelorette party)
Best Man (equivalent of Maid of Honor)
Ceremony Order of Events
There is no right or wrong way to do a ceremony! In fact, mixing it up a bit can be a nice personalization! Below is an outline of a standard ceremony. Most ceremonies last 15-30 minutes.
Audience is seated. Usually there is background music playing to keep the mood reverent. Once everyone is seated, or as people are filing in, the Officiant can move to stand at the front of the room. For all intents and purposes, the Officiant is the “host” of the event. The officiant and groom are in their positions at the front of the audience.
Officiant: “The audience may rise.” Everyone stands
For your groomsmen, you have two options: The groomsmen are either up front with the groom or the groomsmen escort in the bridesmaids. Either way, *please* be prepared to start the ceremony as soon as the groom walks to the front of the room. The worst thing you can do to your groom is keep him waiting and sweating in front of everyone for 5 minutes while you finish your makeup.
After the groomsmen walk in, the mothers are escorted to their seats. The groom’s mother sits in the front row, in the seat closest to the aisle on the right. The mother of the bride sits on the front row, in the seat closest to the aisle on the left.
Everyone walks slowly. This is a celebration, not a race. Also, the slower they go, the better the photos will be!
If the bridesmaids walk in with the groomsmen, the bridesmaid is on the left of the man. The bridesmaids and groomsmen walk to their places. The Maid of Honor and Best Man stand closest to the bride and groom.
Typically the bridal party enters with the people who will stand on the outside and ends with the Maid of Honor and Best Man entering together.
The bridesmaids and groomsmen who walk together split from each other after they pass the chairs and walk to their own spots. Each couple is a few feet away from the other couples so everyone gets their time in the spotlight.
The most common way to arrange your bridal party at the front is to have them stand in a horseshoe or a 45-degree angle so they can see the bride and groom.
RING BEARER AND FLOWER GIRL
This can be arranged however works for you. Generally it is adjusted to meet the needs of the children’s ages. Typically the ring bearer walks in front or beside the flower girl. The idea is that the flower girl distributes petals for the bride to walk on. She prepares the way for the bride.
If your child attendants are too young to stand quietly throughout the wedding ceremony next to the bridal party, it's fine to have them stop at the end of the aisle and sit with a waiting parent.
The bride enters on the left of her escort. They walk slowly toward the front, arms linked. They stop a few feet from the groom.
*This part is sometimes skipped: The Officiant asks the escort something like: “Who gives this bride to be married to this man?” The escort responds with “Her mother and I”. The escort can unveil the bride’s face.
At this point the escort is usually filled with emotion and hugs or kisses the bride. He then shakes hands with the groom and “hands off” the bride.
The escort can be seated.
Officiant: “The audience may be seated.”
At this point the bride and groom are facing each other, sometimes holding hands. The bride can hand her bouquet to the Maid of Honor. Music can still play, but keep it quiet.
THE OFFICIANT’S OPENING REMARKS
You've heard it a hundred times: "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today..." Or some start by saying, "Friends and family..." This can go on for as long as you would like. Some Officiants are asked to deliver a 30 min sermon, but typically it’s a short 5-10 minute speech. What you don’t want is for the bridal party to look bored.
Your officiant may take this moment to emphasize the significance of the vows you're about to exchange. This may also include a reminder of your duties and roles in marriage.
THE EXCHANGE OF VOWS
Your vows are your promises to each other. You may repeat the familiar "to have and to hold, for better or for worse" vows, or recite ones you've written yourselves. I recommend having your notes written on nice paper, and not on your phones. These will be some of the most emotional photos of the ceremony and your bright orange phone case or your tattered notebook paper is not welcome in these photos.
THE RING EXCHANGE
The ring bearer has been holding the rings in a safe box, so he will come deliver them to you. You put the rings on each other.
As you exchange rings, you might say, "With this ring, I thee wed."
No kissing yet!
THE PRONOUNCEMENT OF MARRIAGE
The officiant makes it official ("I now pronounce you husband and wife"). If this is a ring ceremony, and not the actual marriage, the Officiant can say “I now announce Mr. and Mrs. ____!”
And now the moment everyone's been waiting for: your first kiss as a married couple. I encourage you to enjoy that kiss...again, the longer the kiss, the more photos you get!
THE CLOSING REMARKS
Your officiant wraps things up with a few last words and, for a religious wedding, a blessing.
The bride and groom hold hands, and turn to face the audience. The Officiant says something like, “I present to you, Mr. and Mrs. ____!”
People might cheer here!
The final song begins. Wait for a few seconds (remember, there’s no rush!) and then begin to exit. The bride and groom lead the exit.
As the bride and groom exit the guests might toss rose petals, confetti or lavender petals, kind of like the traditional sparkler exit at the end of the reception. Walk with enthusiasm, but slowly!
You can exit to wherever you choose, but just get far enough back that your entire bridal party can exit the area without being crowded in the aisle.
Instruct your bridal party to wait for you to exit the entire aisle before they start exiting too. Otherwise, they will be in the back of the exit photo that is intended to be a “Mr. and Mrs.” moment.
After the bride and groom exit the aisle, the flower girl and ring bearer are next, followed by the Best Man and the Maid of Honor and then the rest of the bridal party. Then the parents exit.
Typically, the family will move right into family photos and the guests will go to the cocktail hour. The first time the guests get to congratulate the bride and groom is at the reception when the bride and groom have their “grand entrance” into the reception and everyone cheers.
Congrats!! You're officially married!