The Procession This is how everyone enters the ceremony. If you are having a small wedding or eloping, you might just gather around, with the couple holding hands and facing each other. If you are having a formal wedding, you will decide how everyone is going to enter or walk down the aisle. Who will escort grandparents or the mother of the bride? Perhaps both parents will escort both the bride and the groom down the aisle?
The Presentation Traditionally, this is the presentation of the bride and the words are, “Who gives this woman to be married?” Or, “ Who gives this woman to be married to this man” Today, the verbiage might be changed to “Who presents this woman to be married?” Some couples choose to have both the bride and the groom presented in a wedding, as in the Jewish Culture. If it’s a same gender wedding, both brides or both grooms may want to be presented in marriage. It’s a way to honor your parents and your family and give meaning to now only marriage but the continuation and growing of the family.
Opening Prayer If you are having a secular, or non religious, ceremony, you can leave this out. It could also be replaced with something secular like a poem about love.
The Welcoming As a wedding officiant, I love to say to the couple “Welcome to your wedding!” All the planning that goes into your wedding day and the momentous occasion of walking down the aisle and being in this place of actually going through the process of being married and exchanging vows is huge! You’ve just had the emotion of maybe seeing each other for the first time on your wedding day or finally experiencing the moment of walking down the aisle. I love to take just those few seconds to breathe and acknowledge that particular moment for what it is, even if they are the only two people to hear it. The wedding ceremony is about the two of you exchanging vow and making promises to last a lifetime.
Of course, after I welcome you, the couple, I welcome everyone who came from far and wide, thanking them for being there and making the trip. We might also take time to say hello to those people Skyping or Facetiming from a distance. If the wedding is being videotaped for an elderly person to watch later, I like to acknowledge them as they are there in real time. Some couples do their best to do a live video chat but if they can’t, they take a video to show them later.
Moment of Silence This is when we take a moment to acknowledge those who aren’t present at the wedding. Either they couldn’t make it or they have passed away. For some couples this is very important. They want to remember those who have recently passed away. I know personally, my father will always remember our grandmothers on special occasions, especially a wedding, knowing how special and important it would have been for them if they were there. I always caution couples when they decide to do this. If someone recently passed away it may do more harm than good because it will stir up emotions. You can name actual people or, you can make a blanket statement. Some couples simply leave it out. The day is about them and those present. End of story. I once had a couple use the phrase, “We’d like to remember those who are not here today, either they are no longer with us or they had something better to do.” Think about it, it was a realistic statement!
Words about love and marriage for the couple This could be a few short paragraphs about marriage itself. It can also include personal information about how the couple met, things about their relationship and funny or meaningful stories. This could also include religious passages or scriptures about marriage. For a small wedding or elopement, I often use an appropriate reading, poem or passage from a book that says everything perfectly. My favorite passage to use is Union, From Beginning to End by Robert Fulgham
Readings Readings could be passages from the bible, poetry or passages specifically written about marriage, love or spirituality. This is a great opportunity to have loved ones participate in your wedding by sharing a reading. It can be very special to have those people reading choose a reading to share that is meaningful to them when they think of you and sharing the day with you. These readings could also be funny, about your dogs or something fun and lighthearted for your wedding. Not everyone has a super-serious wedding. Sometimes the people chosen to do a funny reading actually give a fantastic performance. I once married two english teachers who chose their favorite book passages and read them to each other during the wedding. It was so sweet!
Declaration of Intent This is generally the question, “Is it your intention to get married today?” It might also include “Can anyone show just cause as to why these two should not be joined in marriage? If so, speak now or forever hold your peace.” Personally, I find these to be more legal aspects of marriage than a necessity in your ceremony. I’m a wedding officiant in Indiana, I’m not required to ask these things. They may be required where you live. Your wedding officiant will know that. Some couples specifically ask me not to ask these things knowing there could be trouble from family members. I will ask about intention it I’m performing a quick, legal ceremony where I think it may be questionable, like a sham wedding or marriage of convenience. If I’m performing a small family wedding in a backyard and it’s a really fun group, I’ll ask if there are any objections just because it’s fun to hear the reactions. Sometimes everyone will object in unison.
On a more serious note, taking a moment to pause and acknowledge it is your intent to marry before making your wedding vows mentally prepares you for the moment. During a formal ceremony, I always take a moment to ask “are you ready?’ Simply because your wedding vows are a big moment and I want you to be in that moment and hopefully remember it.
Sometimes the declaration of intent is the officiant asking you traditional wedding vows, “Do you, Groom, take Bride, to be your wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do you part.” Then, later, during the vow or ring exchange they actually speak the words. Personally, I’m at odds as to how I feel about that and leave it up to the couple to decide what they want. It think it’s redundant for me to ask the words and having the person say, “I do” and then having them say the same words. I’ve seen it many traditional wedding scripts. If the couple chooses to write their own vows, then I will ask them those traditional vows too, if they like. There is something about those particular words in a wedding ceremony, if not for the actual practicality of the words but the romance of a wedding
Exchange of Vows This could be writing your own vows or using traditional vows or one of countless updated, more modern wedding vows. This part of the ceremony often makes couples the most nervous. They might not like to be the center of attention or are worried they will mess up. I always assure couples that I can state the vows as a question and they can simply say “I do” or anything in the affirmative to agree to them. They can also repeat after me. Depending on the couple and the vows they are using, it can be more meaningful for them to be facing each other and holding hands in the moment, connected, as I speak those words. If you want to write your own vows but not share them with everyone, you can write the vows and then put them in a box for safe keeping to share later. It could be a formal box ceremony or just a moment. To acknowledge the vows themselves. Here are some pointers about writing your own wedding vows.
The meaning of the wedding rings This can be something different for everyone. They could be an outward and visible sign of the vows you’ve made. They can mean, you are “taken” when you go to a bar. They could could symbolize the unending circles that they are, like love, they have no beginning and not end. They can be a daily reminder that there is one other person in the world that has pledged to love you, forever. Some couples are choosing tattoo’s over actual rings and some couples are choosing not to wear them or one person is choosing not to wear a ring, for whatever reason. I thought that was really odd the first time I heard it. However, the bride really didn’t care and they decided to spend the money on something else. I have a friend that got married late in life and her husband also chose to forego the ring. He works with his hands every day and with electricity. There are non-metal wedding band these days a lot of couples are choosing however, there is no law that states you must wear a ring.
The blessing of the Rings. This is for a religious wedding. I never really thought about it until I was performing a christian wedding for a couple in their backyard. We didn’t include a blessing of the rings. At the end of the wedding the father of the bride was quite upset. He said, “You didn’t bless the rings! If they walk into the house without having their rings blessed it’s bad luck!” There was no logic in the statement, but we stopped, bowed our heads, and I blessed the rings. Other couples have specifically asked for me to bless the rings during the ceremony.
The Ring Exchange Sometimes couples simply put the rings on each other’s fingers. In an informal wedding or elopement I usually ask the couple if they have anything they would like to say to each other ask they place rings on each other’s fingers or would they like to repeat after me? They may say something like, I love you! Traditionally the phrase has been, “With this ring, I thee wed.” I’ve started using, “With this ring I marry you” because a lot of people were not familiar with using the word “thee” and it was coming out, “With this ring, we be married.” Sometimes couple speak actual vows while exchanging rings. You can see many options here.
Unity Ceremony There are a lot of options for unity ceremonies. This is another thing I have mixed feelings about There are things to do during your wedding that having incredible meaning at this point. If you are joining two families with children there may be vows to the children or some sort of unity ceremony, like the sand ceremony. Maybe the couple can express themselves in a really fun way during their wedding ceremony with a unity ceremony. The unity candle honors their mothers in a beautiful way and is common in a Catholic wedding so mother’s appreciate it if you aren’t getting married in the church. Exchanging roses or flowers, tying a knot or doing a box ceremony. They can have a powerful meaning or be really fun during your ceremony. Just remember you don’t have to do a unity ceremony if you don’t want to. It’s not in any way a required part of your wedding. You may not want to spend the money on the supplies or it may just not completely unnecessary to you.
Final Words of Encouragement for the couple This could also be a personal statement for the couple or a blessing.
Final Blessing of Closing Prayer There are lovely non-religious blessings that can be used here. There are also Cetlic or Native American Blessings that are very appropriate. The Seven Blessings for a Jewish Wedding or the Hindu Seven Steps work well here. In a Christian wedding, a final prayer can be offered, or a mixture of many.
Pronouncement of Marriage! “ I now pronounce you married!” “I now pronounce you husband and wife!” Man and wife is definitely out of style, for the most part. There are a few ways you can say this.
The Kiss! “You may seal this marriage with a kiss” or, “You may kiss your bride!”
Introduction as a Married Couple This can vary for everyone. Sometimes I just say Bride and Groom are Married! Mr. and Mrs. Doe or Mr. and Mrs. John Doe or Mr. and Mrs. John and Jane Doe. Some people choose to leave it out.
Instructions for the Guests Where should the guests go now? To another room for cocktails? To the reception at another venue? Should certain people stay for pictures? I sometimes put the instructions for guests before the pronouncement, especially if there is some sort of send off for the bride and groom and you need to give specific directions.
If you’ve read this far, thank you! You may have learned more about wedding ceremonies than you realized. Hopefully, you have more of an understanding of the parts of a wedding ceremony. I go into more detail and examples and options for each part if you follow the links. The biggest thing I think most people don’t realize is they don’t have to do each thing. It’s OK to just say vows and exchange rings and be done. I once wrote a long, detailed, personalized ceremony for a couple who came back with a request that I use a very short, traditionally worded ceremony, verbatim. It seemed really odd to me, they’d literally rented one of the most amazing ceremony venues in town for a 5 minute ceremony. It turned out, they really didn’t want to cry during the ceremony so they made it super simple and the verbiage make it hard to get emotional. I received a thank you note from them stating they had more compliments on the ceremony and it’s brevity! There is something to be said for keeping it short, simple and brief!
Victoria Meyer is the founder of Marry Me In Indy! LLC. She's been officiating weddings in the greater Indianapolis area for over 8 years and has married over 3000 couples.