Photo: Cassidy Carson
Whether you’re dreaming up your own ceremony from scratch or using your house of worship’s standard format, becoming familiar with the order of a typical wedding ceremony is very helpful. Most ceremonies follow a similar order, so if you’ve attended (or been in) a couple of weddings, then you’ve probably got an idea of how things will happen.
Of course, different cultures and religions will incorporate other elements or have a specific order of events; also, you can personalize the proceedings with your own touches—songs, readings, prayers, vows you’ve written yourselves, etc.—to put a meaningful and memorable stamp on the ceremony. That said, what you’ll find below is a traditional wedding ceremony order of events to serve as a framework for your own wedding ceremony, but don't feel like you need to include every step or stick to a certain time frame.
SEATING OF GUESTS
As guests arrive to the ceremony, ushers can help by guiding guests to their seats; this typically happens 30 to 45 minutes before the ceremony start time. This can be timed to coincide with the ceremony music start time (with live musicians or recorded music playing in the background). Ushers should seat guests from the front rows to the back and also according to designated sides (left side of the aisle vs. right side of the aisle), if the couple has decided to do so). The exception: special guests who have been reserved seats in the front rows.
SEATING OF FAMILY MEMBERS
The final guests to be seated at Christian ceremonies are, in this order: grandparents, mother of the groom (with the groom's father walking just behind), and mother of the bride.
The processional is the entrance of the wedding party into the ceremony venue to take their places at the front. You and your fiancé can each make your way down the aisle separately, with your parents, or even hand-in-hand together. For a traditional Christian procession, the bride is escorted by her father, while the groom waits up front. For a Jewish procession, the groom’s mother and father walk him down the aisle together, followed by the bride escorted by her parents.
Once everyone is in place, the officiant will say a few words of welcome to kick off the ceremony—it might be the traditional “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…” or something along those lines to welcome guests to the celebration.
Next, the officiant will begin with an introduction and some thoughts on marriage—this could be a recounting of your love story, wise words on marriage, or a brief outline of the ceremony proceedings to come.
Next, if you are including readings in your ceremony, readers will be invited up at this point to share a few words. These could be prayers, meaningful poems, literary passages, or personal anecdotes about your relationship; these readings are usually given by close friends or family members.
EXCHANGE OF VOWS
The vows are the promises you make to one another. You may want to recite the traditional vows—“to have and to hold, from this day forward”—or write your own. (If you’d like to write your own, follow our tips and tricks to writing the perfect wedding vows.)
EXCHANGE OF RINGS
Now it's time to exchange the rings. Traditionally, the groom puts the ring on the bride’s finger first, followed by the bride putting the ring on the groom’s. As you exchange rings, the traditional saying is, “With this ring, I thee wed.”
PRONOUNCEMENT OF MARRIAGE
It’s official, you're married! The officiant will say, “I now pronounce you husband and wife.” Followed by…
“You may now kiss the bride.” Seal your marriage with a kiss! Make it a good one and don’t rush it—you’ll want your photographer to capture this one!
The officiant will wrap things up with a few last words and, for a religious wedding, a blessing. They might also add a few logistical instructions—e.g., directions to the reception venue, instructions for certain guests to stay behind for photos, etc.
This is the grand exit and the wedding recessional order is basically the reverse of the processional. The bride and groom exit the ceremony together as newlyweds, followed by the wedding party in pairs. Once the wedding party has exited the room, then guests exit the ceremony row by row to make their way to the reception.