Everything You Need to Know About The Wedding Ceremony Order

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Rachel Kashdan - The Knot Contributor.
by
Rachel Kashdan
Rachel Kashdan - The Knot Contributor.
Rachel Kashdan
The Knot Contributor
  • Rachel is a freelance writer and contributor to The Knot.
  • Prior to working as a freelance writer, Rachel was a staff writer at Boston magazine covering home design and weddings.
  • Rachel has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University.
Updated Sep 07, 2021

Just as every couple's story is unique, so is each couple's big day—especially when it comes to the wedding ceremony. Typically, all that is required of couples who want to wed from a legal standpoint is a completed state-issued marriage license, an exchange of vows, a verbal agreement to enter a marriage contract and a proclamation that the couple is legally wed.

Beyond that, there's a whole lot of flexibility in terms of how you choose to include loved ones on your wedding day, how you exchange wedding vows, and whether you opt for a secular or religious wedding. Not sure where to start? Below, we're sharing a variety of wedding ceremony outlines with input and advice from experts to use as a jumping-off point for the order of service for your own nuptials.

A Non-Religious Ceremony

A secular type of ceremony can take on many forms. To help you figure out where to begin, here's a sample wedding ceremony order of events framework with input from Liz Rae of Liz Rae & Co., a wedding officiant based in Chicago, and Shawn Miller, founder and co-owner of Young Hip & Married, a wedding officiant company based in Canada. Keep in mind that this outline is simply a starting point, and you should personalize it as you see fit.

The Wedding Processional Order

  • Officiant
  • Partner One (typically with parents or alone)
  • Best Man and Groomsmen
  • Maid of Honor (or Matron of Honor) and Bridesmaids
  • Flower Girl and Ring Bearer
  • Partner two (typically with parents, father or alone)

Mixed-gender wedding parties are more common these days, particularly for LGBTQ+ weddings, Rae says, so more often than not, bridesmaids, groomsmen, and other bridal party members are no longer entering two-by-two with linked arms. "Sometimes they will go one-by-one, sometimes it will be one side then the next," she explains.

Moreover, while many couples continue to enter separately as outlined above, couples are also choosing to walk in together or back to back. "This is very symbolic for couples that have lived a lot of life together where their wedding is not the 'start' of their relationship, rather the continuation of their love and their life together," Miller explains.

The Traditional Wedding Ceremony Order

  • Opening Remarks From the Officiant
  • Readings
  • Exchange of Vows
  • Ring Exchange
  • Pronouncement
  • First Kiss
  • Introduction of the Couple

Rae also says many couples include a unity ceremony or ritual before or after their vows. "A unity piece isn't required for a ceremony," Rae says, but some "couples find an activity that represents them to symbolize the commitment they're making." Examples include a sand ceremony, unity candle or tree planting, all of which take no more than five minutes. Miller, on the other hand, loves when couples include community vows as part of their ceremony, where the officiant reads promises aloud for friends and family members to affirm by saying "we do" in unison.

The Recessional Walking Order

Generally, the recessional simply follows the reverse order of the processional, with the couple leading the way and the officiant the last to leave. The officiant may exit down the center of the aisle or exit to the side after any closing remarks or offering instructions for wedding guests.

A Traditional Christian Ceremony

While there's certainly a format to the traditional Christian ceremony, "following a script on the 'should' around weddings is something I do not prescribe to," says Reverend Whittney Ijanaten of LA-based Rev I, do Officiating. "I encourage my couples to get creative, get lost on Pinterest and have fun with it." With that said, there's certainly a basic wedding program template you can follow for a typical Christian ceremony, which we've outlined below with help from Ijanaten.

The Processional Walking Order

  • Officiant
  • Parents of the Groom
  • Mother of the Bride
  • Groom
  • Best Man and Maid of Honor (walking together)
  • Groomsmen and Bridesmaids (escorting each other)
  • Ring Bearer and Flower Girl
  • Bride and Father of the Bride

The Ceremony

  • Officiant Welcomes Guests
  • Remarks From the Officiant
  • Readings
  • Exchange of Vows
  • Prayer Over the Rings
  • Ring exchange
  • Pronouncement of Marriage
  • First Kiss

The Recessional Walking Order

  • Couple
  • Ring Bearer and Flower Girl
  • Best Man and Maid of Honor (walking together)
  • Groomsmen and Bridesmaids (escorting each other)
  • Parents of the Bride
  • Parents of the Groom
  • Officiant

A Traditional Jewish Ceremony

New York-based Cantor Leslie Friedlander says that "according to Jewish law, there are no hard and fast laws regarding the processional and recessional." There is, however, a typical structure developed over the past few centuries that adapts Western wedding traditions to blend with Jewish values and customs. See more on that below.

The Processional Walking Order

  • Rabbi or Cantor
  • Groomsmen
  • Best Man
  • Groom and Parents of the Groom
  • Bridesmaids
  • Maid of Honor
  • Bride and Parents of the Bride

Friedlander says that each Jewish wedding ceremony she officiates is unique, and while many follow a traditional structure, others have been more casual. "Sometimes there is no procession at all and the wedding party just appears under the chuppah on cue. Sometimes the bride has men in her bevy of attendants and likewise, the groom has women in his party. And even in a somewhat traditional Jewish wedding, the couple may choose to walk down the aisle together with no parents accompanying them," says the expert.

The biggest difference between a Jewish wedding and a Christian wedding, Friedlander says, is that the bride and groom a Jewish wedding are both led in by their parents. When the bride enters with hers, they stop halfway up the aisle where the groom goes to meet them and the two continue their walk to the chuppah after her parents take their places.

The Ceremony

  • Signing of the Ketubah: The couple signs this wedding contract prior to the ceremony.
  • Circling: "The bride and groom may circle each other three times and then circle together once, creating seven circuits," Friedlander explains. "By doing this they are each saying that the other is the center of their universe and they are creating that universe together."
  • Words of Welcome in Hebrew and English From the Officiant
  • Kiddush: A blessing over wine.
  • Officiant's Wedding Address
  • Exchange of Rings
  • Sheva B'rachot: "Seven blessings sung in Hebrew that express the miracle of creation, the human capacity for love and friendship, generosity, kindness and compassion," Friedlander says.
  • Pronouncement of Marriage
  • Breaking of the Glass: The groom steps on a glass in a cloth bag. "Even in the midst of our great joy we remember that there is suffering in the world and we acknowledge the fragility of relationships and life's preciousness," Friedlander explains of the custom.

The Recessional Walking Order

  • Married Couple
  • Maid of Honor
  • Bridesmaids
  • Best Man
  • Groomsmen
  • Parents of the Groom
  • Parents of the Bride
  • Rabbi or Cantor

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