Everything You Need to Know About the Wedding Ceremony Order
Just as every couple's story is unique, so is each couple's big day—especially when it comes to the wedding ceremony order. Typically, all that's 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 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've rounded up a variety of wedding ceremony outlines with advice from experts to use as a foundation for the order of events for your own nuptials.
In this article:
Traditional Wedding Ceremony Order Outline
The phrases "traditional wedding ceremony" and "non-religious wedding ceremony" are used interchangeably because neither involve any religious traditions or adheres to a religious structure. This secular ceremony is legally binding and, depending on what the couple wants, comes in many different forms. Here is a basic outline of the traditional wedding ceremony order:
During this part of the wedding ceremony, your immediate family, wedding party and, finally, you and your partner walk down the aisle. Traditionally, if the wedding is for a couple of the opposite sex, the procession starts with the officiant and follows with the groom (who can walk down the aisle with their parents or alone), the best man, the groomsmen, the maid of honor, the bridesmaids, the flower girl, ring bearer and the bride (who can walk down the aisle with their parents or alone). While this structure is what's commonly adhered to, it can be adjusted, especially for LGBTQ+ couples who should feel empowered to customize the processional order as they see it.
Typically, the groomsmen stand behind the groom, and bridesmaids stand behind the bride, but recently some couples have been switching it up. Instead, the bridesmaids stand behind the groom and the groomsmen stand behind the bride. This allows the couple to look to their VIPs for emotional support (without having to turn around). Another way some couples are straying from tradition is by choosing to walk down the aisle together instead of separately. This method acts as a symbol of the couple continuing, not starting, their love journey together.
2. Opening Remarks From the Officiant
This part of the wedding ceremony order is also called the invocation. Once everyone has settled into their place at the altar, the officiant will welcome everyone to the wedding ceremony and thank guests for being present as witnesses. The officiant can also speak about marriage and your and your partner's love story.
Wedding readings are texts that you and your partner feel represent your relationship. The readings can be from poems, spiritual texts or even your favorite movie. Some couples ask their family or friends to recite them to add sentimental meaning to the moment (if you do this, the officiant will introduce each reader).
Additionally, if you're planning to include a unity ceremony, such as a sand ceremony or handfasting, that ceremony element can take place at this point in the service.
4. Declaration of Intent and Vow Exchange
Now it's time to say, "I do!" The declaration of intent, the legally binding part of the ceremony, is when you and your partner verbally acknowledge that you're both present of your own volition and want to marry one another. Once that is addressed, you can exchange vows. You can deliver your vows publicly or privately if you want more intimacy. Your wedding vows can be in a traditional structure or as unconventional as you want them to be.
5. Ring Exchange
After the declaration of intent and vow exchange, you and your partner exchange rings. The officiant gives each of you the other's wedding ring. You can take this time to say some kind words about why the wedding ring is significant to you and your marriage.
6. Pronouncement and First Kiss
Now you and your partner are officially married! The officiant will pronounce you and your partner as newlyweds and say you can finally have your first kiss as a married couple.
The last step that signifies the end of the traditional wedding ceremony order is the recessional. Generally, the recessional follows the reverse order of the processional, which means the couple leads the way and the officiant is the last to leave. The officiant may exit down the center of the aisle or exit to the side after giving closing remarks and offering instructions to the wedding guests.
Cultural & Religious Wedding Ceremony Order Ideas
If you're having a faith-based wedding, it can be overwhelming trying to account for all of the various intricacies that come with your religion's wedding ceremony order. Some religions have similar structures while others have strict rules that must be abided by or else the wedding isn't official. To help ease your mind and make you feel more prepared, we've compiled everything you need to know about these religions' wedding ceremony outlines.
Christian Wedding Ceremony Order
There's definitely a specific script that most Christian denominations adhere to for the wedding ceremony order of events, but there's some room for flexibility depending on the denomination. With that said, there's certainly a basic wedding program template you can follow for a typical Christian ceremony. In a traditional Christian processional order, the parents-of-the-groom follow the officiant, then the mother-of-the-bride, the groom, the best man and maid of honor (walking together), groomsmen and bridesmaids (escorting each other), ring bearer, flower girl and the bride and father-of-the-bride walk down the aisle.
After the processional, the officiant welcomes the guests and makes their remarks. Then there are the wedding readings and vow exchange. After that, a brief prayer is done over the wedding rings then the rings are exchanged. Once the couple has their wedding rings on, the officiant pronounces them newlyweds, and they are encouraged to share their first kiss as a married couple. Finally, there is the recessional, which is in the reverse order of the processional.
Want to know the wedding ceremony timeline of other Christian branches and denominations? Check out these fully detailed wedding ceremony program templates below:
Before the processional can commence, the couple has to complete two important Jewish rituals, the signing of the ketubah and the bedeken. A ketubah is a marriage contract that the couple signs in front of two appointed witnesses, that aren't blood-related, before the ceremony. The bedeken ritual is where the couple's friends and families watch as the groom places the wedding veil on the bride. This ritual comes from the story of Jacob in the Bible, who was deceived into marrying his intended's sister because she was so heavily veiled.
After the ketubah and bedeken rituals, a traditional Jewish processional starts with the rabbi and cantor followed by the bride's grandparents, the groom's grandparents, the groomsmen (walking in pairs), the best man, the groom escorted by his parents, the bridesmaids (walking in pairs), the maid of honor, the ring bearer and flower girl (optional) and, finally, the bride escorted by her parents. It's important to note that for Jewish wedding ceremonies that have both a bride and groom, there's traditionally a different altar set up than most ceremonies since the groom and his party stand on the left while the bride and her party stand on the right.
Next, the bride and groom make their way under the chuppah, a canopy representing love, home and support from loved ones. Traditionally, under the chuppah, the bride does the circling ritual where she circles the groom seven times which represents her building a wall of love. (Modern Jewish couples have changed the tradition to the bride and groom circling one another three times and then making a circle together to show equity between them.) The next step is the betrothal blessing, where the rabbi blesses a cup of wine and the couple drinks from the cup. The couple then exchanges rings while the rabbi reads from the ketubah. Once the rings are exchanged, a rabbi or honored loved one recites the Sheva Brachot (or Seven Blessings) over another cup of wine and the couple drinks from the cup. The groom then stomps on a glass in a cloth bag, some think this tradition represents the fragility of human relationships, and everyone shouts "mazel tov," which means congratulations. The couple starts the recessional followed by the bride's parents, the groom's parents, the bride's grandparents, the groom's grandparents, the ring bearer and flower girl (optional), the maid of honor and best man, the bridesmaids and groomsmen and finally the rabbi and cantor.
The Muslim wedding ceremony, also known as the Nikah, is one of the shortest wedding ceremonies since it only lasts 30 to 40 minutes. Usually, the ceremony is performed in a mosque and officiated by a religious leader, also known as an Imam.
Traditionally, there's no procession or recession incorporated into a Muslim wedding ceremony schedule. Instead, all the women usually sit around the bride while all the men sit around the groom. Throughout the Nikah ceremony, the bride and groom aren't allowed to see each other. The Imam appoints the father-of-the-bride as the bride's Wali or guardian that looks out for the bride's best interests during the mahr. The mahr is a ceremonial presentation of cash, gifts or other offerings to the bride from the groom. Once the gifts are exchanged, the Ijab-e-Qubool ritual starts with the Imam asking the bride "Qubool Hai" three times. This phrase means, "Do you give consent?" To accept, the bride must say "Qubool Hai" three times in an assertive and positive tone, so the Imam can do the same process with the groom. Next, the bride and groom sign the Nikah Nama, an Islamic marriage contract that details the duties of the bride and groom, while two witnesses watch on. The Imam recites readings from the Quran and the readings act as the couple's wedding vows. Lastly, the couple is showered with duroods, which means "blessings," from their guests.
Hindu weddings are known for being elaborate affairs that span over several days, which means the Hindu wedding ceremony order of events is one of the longest.
First is the baraat, this is when the groom processes to the venue, traditionally on a white horse, escorted by his family and friends. The milni tradition is next, and involves the bride's parents and friends welcoming the groom and his guests and giving the groom food, money or shagun, which are tokens of good luck. The bride's mother applies the tilak, or red dot, on the groom's forehead. Once the groom and his guests are escorted to the mandap, a raised four-poster structure with a canopy, a priest blesses the marriage ceremony and asks Lord Ganesh to remove all obstacles in the newlywed's lives. Then the bride's procession, also known as Kanya Aagaman, starts with her being escorted by her male family members (typically her uncles) to the mandap.
The bride and groom exchange brightly colored garlands in a tradition called the jai mala, which symbolizes the joining of two families. In the kanyadaan part of the ceremony, the bride's parents give the bride away to the groom. The Laaja Homam ritual is next, so the bride must pour rice into the agni, the sacred fire, with help from a male family member and the groom to symbolize prosperity and the joining of families. After that is the Mangal Phera, where the couple walks around the agni four times to represent the four goals of life. The Mangalsutra portion of the ceremony follows this and is when the bride and groom tie their scarves, or dupattas, together to represent commitment. After tying the dupattas, the groom puts a necklace on the bride that symbolizes her new status as a married woman. The couple circles the agni again during the Saptapadi, which means "seven steps," a ritual that represents the seven principles and promises the couple will make to one another. The last step in the Hindu wedding ceremony order is for the couple to receive final blessings from their loved ones, especially their parents, and get showered with rice or flowers as they walk down the aisle.
The Unitarian Universalist community is very flexible about what elements you can include in the ceremony order for your wedding since they pride themselves in accepting all religions and ideologies. Because of this, the processional and recessional order is totally up to you.
After the couple processes down the aisle, a minister or lay chaplain will start with opening remarks and welcome the guests to the ceremony. The minister will then address the couple's family and friends and speak to why everyone has gathered to celebrate the to-be-weds. The minister then addresses the couple and talks about why they're ready to marry the other person. The next step is the affirmation of intentions which is when the minister asks the couple if they're present of their own will and want to be married to the other person. Once the couple says "I do," one of the couple's loved ones gives a reading leading into the community vow portion of the ceremony.
The community vow is when the minister asks the guests to vow to support the couple, and they must respond with "We do." The couple is then asked to exchange vows with one another. Immediately after the vows is the ring exchange, during this time, the minister explains to the couple that their wedding rings are symbols of unbroken love. The unity ceremony is up next, but the kind of unity ceremony the couple performs is up to them. (It can be a unity flower ceremony, sand ceremony, unity candle or much more.) The signing of the register is the next crucial part of the ceremony because the couple must sign it before an officiant can legally pronounce them a married couple. After the couple signs, the minister does a prayer blessing the couple and their new marriage together. The minister can finally announce the couple as married and ask them to have their first kiss. The newlyweds and their wedding party then are allowed to recess in whatever order they choose.
Common Questions About the Wedding Ceremony Order
Still need more insight on how you should go about planning your wedding ceremony timeline? Then check out these answers from wedding experts to couples' most frequently asked wedding ceremony order questions.
Is it okay if I change my wedding ceremony order?
Not only is changing your wedding ceremony order okay, but it's also encouraged by plenty of officiants. The traditional wedding processional order, for example, tends to be heteronormative and, as such, has to be completely changed for LGBTQ+ couples. Maria Northcott, wedding officiant and founder of A Sweet Start, believes it's okay to shake things up since your ceremony should represent you and your partner as a couple. "For all aspects of your ceremony, tradition is no longer the guiding force. In its place are creativity, customization, personalization and finding the options that feel right for you as a couple," Northcott says.
How should my partner and I plan an interfaith ceremony order?
If you're having an interfaith wedding, Minister Toya with Waning Moon Weddings highly suggests you work with a professional and experienced wedding officiant. You should hire someone that "will know things like the flow of service, how each element fits into the script, how long rituals may take, etc." Having an interfaith officiant will help, but Minister Toya also encourages couples to compile a list of elements from their religion's traditional ceremonies and then weave everything together. This way, you and your partner have a jumping-off point before meeting with your officiant.
Should I work with an officiant or wedding planner while planning my ceremony order?
Yes, you should definitely work with at least an officiant, even if you want a loved one to officiate. Many officiants offer ceremony writing support, so don't be afraid to reach out to one. Minister Toya thinks that officiants are helpful because they'll put in the work of listening to the couple's love story and take account of the couple's cultures to create an unforgettable ceremony they'll be excited about. Northcott wants you to remember that "professional wedding officiants have so much experience orchestrating this aspect of the ceremony, so lean on us for guidance and advice."
When should couples start planning their wedding ceremony outline?
Many expert wedding pros suggest that couples start planning their wedding ceremony outline within 30 days of their wedding day. Since it gives couples enough time to get inspiration from social media but also puts a little pressure on them to make decisions on what means the most to them. During this planning period, you and your partner should talk about everything from how you want to be pronounced to who is doing the ceremony readings.