This guide will show you the exact wedding ceremony order for your wedding.
The best part?
Everything here will apply to just about any wedding format or situation.
(In other words, don’t worry if you are new to this or if you have a non-traditional wedding.)
Another best part?
You read this article to the end and you’ll have everything you need to make your wedding enjoyable and easy.
Our wedding expert – Island Mike – a wedding officiant in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico – will walk you step-by -step through the wedding day order.
(And just in case you’re considering a destination wedding in the islands, Island Mike is the best!)
Be sure to check out the BONUS SECTION at end of the article for some never before seen advice on what to do right after the ceremony ends (hint: we dislike receiving lines).
The Traditional Wedding Ceremony Order:
1. The Ceremony Line Up (or the Procession or Processional)
2. Giving Away of the Bride
3. Lining up the Bridal Party
4. Opening or Welcoming Remarks by Minister or Officiant
5. Readings (if any)
6. Charge to the Couple
7. Declaration of Intent
8. Exchange of Vows
9. Exchange of Rings
10. Unity Ceremony
11. Closing Remarks or Benediction
12. The Kiss
13. The Pronouncement
14. The Recessional
15. BONUS SECTION
*A quick comment on the order of things – before your first guest is seated, please, please decide whether you want an unplugged ceremony (we highly recommend it). If you do make sure you are following some common-sense wedding ceremony etiquette.
**Another quick comment – don’t get stressed about the proper order of your ceremony. Here’s why:
1. Very few people know the “proper” order of things. Those that do know shouldn’t really care if you don’t do it “properly”. And if they do care, they’re probably going to critique every darn part of your wedding anyway so screw them.
2. The “proper” order of your processional, ceremony and recessional is entirely up to you. It’s your dang wedding. So don’t sweat it and have fun.
Anyhow, I now share with you the proper wedding ceremony order.
1. Order of the Wedding Ceremony – Processional
Really the best way to understand the processional is to look at a picture.
Here it is in picture form:
-Ushers will escort important guests – mothers, grandmothers, VIPs.
-Officiant or Minister goes first (hopefully your minister was ordained by Wanderlust so they’ll already know all this).
-Groom goes next
-Then the other groomsmen escorting the bridesmaids.
-Then the best man and maid of honor walk together.
-The ring bearer goes next.
-The flower girl follows.
-The bride is escorted by her father or other friend or family member.
*Please note: this is all subject to your own circumstances and can be changed to fit your unique situation. For example, if the groom only has 1 groomsman and the bride has 5 bridesmaids, the groomsmen can walk up with the groom and the bridesmaids can walk down the aisle without escorts. I’ve seen a million variations, so call me or text me or email me if your situation and I’ll line give you some suggestions. 🙂
2. Giving away the bride
I love the time-honored tradition where the father escorts his daughter (the bride) down the aisle. He walks proudly with his baby girl all the while thinking how much this damn wedding cost him and that the marriage better last.
The groom anxiously stands at the altar as the bride’s father leers menacingly at him.
When the bride and her father get a few feet away from the altar/groom/officiant, the minister will ask, “Who gives this woman to wed this man?”. The father will then say either, “I do” or “I and her mother do”.
The father then lifts the veil, kisses his daughter, and turns to the guy and punches him in the kidney. Or, he can give him a handshake and a hug.
The groom will offer his hand to the bride to guide her the last step up the altar. The bride may decide to either hand her bouquet to her maid of honor or hold it for the first part of the ceremony.
*Another note: I promise this will be the last time I break in, as I mentioned before, if you have a unique situation, i.e. the bride’s father is deceased or objects to the wedding, etc., we can insert anyone or no one as the escort. Again, I’m here awaiting your peculiar/unique/nontraditional/fun twist if you want to call, text or email me – 340-201-6069 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Lining Up the Bridal Party
At this point, everyone is at the altar. What a gorgeous group of people.
From the minister’s perspective, the groom should be to his or her immediate left. Followed by the best man and other groomsmen. The ring bearer, usually a little fella, can stand with the groomsmen. If he’s particularly energetic, I like to put him towards the end so he isn’t constantly harassing/distracting the couple and getting in all the pictures. If he’s a chill dude, put him in front of the best man…because ring bearers are damn cute.
To the right: the bride, maid of honor and the bridesmaids.
4. Welcoming and Opening Remarks by Minister or Officiant
Once everyone in the wedding party is lined up and the guests/audience are seated, the ceremony begins.
The opening remarks by the minister are the meat of the ceremony. The content might consist of:
-the couple’s love story
-defining love and marriage
-anecdotes about the officiant’s relationship to the couple
Couples usually leave the opening remarks to the discretion of the minister/officiant.
5. Wedding Ceremony Readings
Outside of church weddings, I seldom see readings incorporated into the wedding. I don’t know why this is.
Adding a reading or two to your wedding ceremony is the surest and easiest way to personalize and honor/include special guests in your wedding.
I watch couples spend hours agonizing over wedding invitations but not 3 minutes in planning a meaningful wedding ceremony.
Why not ask Uncle Ron and Aunt Darlene, who let you live in their basement after you graduated college, to read a Scripture passage or poem. It’s cheaper than paying them back and they’ll be absolutely blown away.
Choosing a reading should not be agonizing or an irritant. Leave the reading choice to them and have them get your approval ahead of time. Or, let them surprise you.
A little advice: if you are giving your readers creative freedom tell them the reading cannot be longer than 3-4 minutes. The sister of one of my brides fancied herself a poet. After about 8 minutes of undecipherable stanzas and in the middle of the poem, the bride said, “thanks Cindy, I loved it”. I think everyone in attendance said a silent “thank you” to the bride. Don’t allow Cindy to happen to your ceremony.
6. Charge to the Couple
Ok, things are about to get serious.
Up until now, the bride and groom have been passive participants – trying to listen to the minister, not look nervous and smile when possible.
Now the tone of the officiant will change. Instead of droning on, I mean talking, about love, marriage and relationships, he’ll/she’ll address the couple directly.
“It is my responsibility today to remind you both of the importance of your commitments today. You each have a duty to the other to bring joy, provide support and nurture peace in your home. You must always remember that you do not walk this path alone. Your marriage requires that you face difficulties together. It requires that you always accept an outreached hand from the other seeking comfort and assistance.”
Which leads to…
7. Declaration of Intent
“Do you take this woman to be your wife…and do you take this man to be your husband.”
Each person will reply with “I do” or “Yes” or “Hell yeah!” or similar.
Basically the minister is establishing that the bride and groom actually want to get married. Usually your guests sit up in their chairs because they recognize this part of the ceremony.
8. Exchange of Vows
There are 3 ways to do this.
The first way is to have the officiant recite all the vows and the bride and groom will affirm the vows by saying, “I do”.
Something like this,
Officiant: Do you Peter take Mary Jane to be your wife.
Will you be faithful to her.
Will you love her for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health…til death do us part?
Peter: I do
Usually the groom will go first.
A second way to do the vows is to have the bride and groom repeat the vows as the minister says them.
Officiant: I Peter, take you Mary Jane, to be my wife
Groom: I Peter, take you Mary Jane, to be my wife
Officiant: To have and to hold from this day forward
Groom: To have and to hold from this day forward…
The final way is to have the couple write their own vows. In this instance the couple will do all the talking.
Even when the couple is saying their own vows, I often have the couple recite the traditional vows. But you can do whatever you like best.
9. Ring Exchange
The officiant will call out, “May I have the rings.”
The ring bearer or best man should bring the rings forward. Form isn’t as important as substance. We need the rings, so get them one way or another.
Again, usually the groom goes first and repeats the wording from the officiant.
Officiant: With this ring, I thee wed.
Groom: With this ring, I thee wed.
Officiant: Wear it as a symbol
Groom: Wear it as a symbol
Officiant: Of my love and faithfulness
Groom: Of my love and faithfulness
10. Unity Ceremony (If Applicable)
What’s your pleasure – sand, candles, wine, ropes, rum? (Sounds inappropriate doesn’t it?)
Actually there are unity ceremonies of every shape, size and configuration. The idea is to include a personalized and meaningful ceremony to further symbolize the couple’s union.
So after the rings, the couple will perform their chosen unity ceremony.
11. Closing Remarks or Benediction
This part of the ceremony is hopefully short since by now guests are probably getting restless. The minister might say a prayer or give some final thoughts for the couple.
It will lead into words to the effect of:
By the power vested in me by the power of the great state of Missouri…
12. The Kiss
Ahhhh, the big pay off. The money shot. Make it count.
I once had a groom kiss the bride on the forehead. Still wonder how their wedding night turned out.
13. The Pronouncement
After the kiss the officiant will introduce the new couple to all those in attendance.
It is my pleasure to introduce to you all for the first time as husband and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Peter Parker.
14. The Recessional
Ok, it’s over. Let’s get out of here. The bride and groom walk out together hand in hand. Then the wedding party walks out in reverse order from how they walked in.
Hopefully your guests are clapping and getting rowdy and ready to celebrate.
A random wedding planning thought:
If I were making a program for the wedding ceremony it would only include:
Processional – Music Choice
Exchange of Rings
15. Bonus Section: Let’s Rock this Mother
After the recessional, things can turn in lots of different directions. But here are a few ideas for what to do after the ceremony. And I mean literally in the 5 minutes after the ceremony.
A time-honored tradition. If you have a large group of guests this can take 30+ minutes (I found this misguided article which strongly supports receiving lines – Receiving Lines).
If you are on the fence about receiving lines, imagine this:
It’s been 15 minutes and you’re halfway through the line of guests. Next up is Uncle Marv. Uncle Marv will want to spend 3 minutes telling you about his wedding. His wife Aunt Nellie will spend 2 more minutes correcting him. There, you’ve now wasted 5 minutes of precious dance or drinking time.
And if that still doesn’t convince you, think about all those awkward, butt-out hugs.
I say skip it. Why not instead get everyone together for a…
A Group Shot
Ok, this has 2 entirely different meanings and both are viable alternatives to the receiving line.
Photography Group Shot
If you’ve hired a photographer, have him or her gather up your entire group of family and friends and pose for one big group shot. It’s chaotic but it’s fun and it should net you a nice photo of everyone that came to celebrate your day.
Often your only chance to get a group photo is immediately after the ceremony. If you wait more than 2 minutes after the ceremony, people will scatter and you’ll never get them all together again.
Alcohol Group Shot
Seriously, I’m guessing by now the bar is open. (If your ceremony was in a church, have someone waiting out on the steps of the church pouring shots for the group. Do the shot there at the church steps.) Get everyone in attendance to stand together with a shot in hand.
This has to be planned in advance. Have the bartender pour all the shots waiting as each guest grabs a glass.
A group shot can easily be tied together with the group photo.
This is before moving into the main reception area. This is for people to mingle, drink and warm up for the big event.
The way to make this a unique option is to come up with 1 or 2 signature drinks and offer those as the preferred/exclusive drink. Or have Apothecary jars full of mixed drinks or juices.
Puppy Party (Kittens work too)
I just learned that this is a thing. Here’s how it works:
You partner up with the local animal rescue or Humane Society and make a donation. They bring a bunch of puppies to your wedding. Your guests spend time holding, playing and pretty much having the best time of their lives with the little fury babies.
It’s almost as fun as the Electric Slide.
Self explanatory. I think they’re fun. And because I can’t resist them, I’ve probably ruined more wedding videos than angry mother in laws.
Come to think of it…I just had the most amazing idea! Why not do a photo booth receiving line? Make all your guests pass through the booth before reaching you. Or possibly even better, make your guests do a photo with you in the booth.
Just a thought.
Ok, at the beginning of this article I said it would be helpful to any couple’s wedding? Well I lied. If you are having a dry wedding, many of the ideas here are useless to you. I’m sorry.
Anyhow, at first glance, having a drinking game at your wedding sounds like it would be reserved for college-age couples. But for some reason, when you hit your 50’s and 60’s, drinking games become big again.
Setting up 3 or 4 games of beer pong can really get things going. The key is to get the older generations playing. It’s not a party until your 75 year-old Aunt Tilly is chugging beer.
This is a key moment. People are all together, they’re still buzzed from the kiss. Get everyone together for a champagne toast. If you don’t do it right after the ceremony, it will be hard to organize later. The bride/groom can give a quick toast and we’re done.
Get Sh*t Done
So many wedding traditions are lovely but kinda annoying at the same time. Picture this:
Your guests are partying hard. The drinks are flowing. People are getting comfortable. Then some sappy love song comes on really loud and everyone has to stop and politely watch for the next 20 minutes while the bride/groom/mom/dad/stepdad/grandma all have a dance.
So if you want to check a few of the important traditions off the list, consider doing them right after the ceremony:
- First dance – have a nice bluetooth speaker ready with the song(s) queued up and have the dance. I promise, this is more enjoyable for all parties involved. And everyone will be forced to watch.
- Dad’s toast. Instead of having 4-5 speeches drone on for 45+ minutes at dinner, have a champagne toast and let Dad get his moment of glory before people have zoned out.
- Bouquet toss. If you are doing a bouquet toss, have a stunt-double bouquet and do it after the ceremony. Do the toss with the fake bouquet and you’ll still have your actual bouquet intact for photos and to keep. 🙂
- Cut the cake. Probably the most neglected of all wedding traditions. And by that, I mean the cake is usually hiding off in some corner of the reception hall while everyone is on the other side of the room at the mini bar. By cutting the cake early, people will be present and more likely to participate.
The idea with all of my ideas is to keep the flow of the evening going. I’ve been to so many weddings where the traditional events are either completely ignored, completely missed or completely ignored again.
And if there is a single moment in the wedding when the entire group is paying attention and excited and not looking at their cell phones, it’s right after the wedding ceremony ends.
Whew, I may have ticked off every wedding planner I know with this little bonus section (my wife included).