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.)
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, you can see his Wedding Packages in Puerto Rico.)
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 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
*One final comment on the order of things. Before the very first note is played to start the processional, or even before your first guests 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.
1. Order of the Wedding Ceremony – Processional
I’ll explain in word form. But really the best way 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.
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 situation and circumstances. For example, if the groom only has 1 groomsmen and the bride has 5 bridesmaids, the groomsmen can walk up with the groom and the bridesmaids can walk up un-escorted. But since there can be a million variations, call me or text me or email me if your situation and I’ll line you up. 🙂
2. Giving away the bride
A time-honored tradition where the father escorts his daughter (the bride) down the aisle. The groom anxiously awaits as the 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 to 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, but 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
Now everyone is at the altar.
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, usually in front of the best man.
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 consists of:
-the couple’s love story
-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 include Uncle Ron and Aunt Darlene, who let you live in their basement after you graduated, and ask them to read a Scripture passage or poem. It’s cheaper than paying them back and they’ll be absolutely blown away.
6. Charge to the Couple
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 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…and do you take this man. Basically the minister is establishing that the bride and groom actually want to get married.
Each person will reply with “I do” or “Yes” or “Mmmhmm” or similar.
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,
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
13. The Pronouncement
After the kiss the officiant will introduce to all those in attendance the new couple.
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 and then in reverse order from how they walked in, the wedding party walks out.
People should be clapping and getting rowdy and ready to celebrate.
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.
The ideas expressed here are to put a new twist on the order of things to make the wedding ceremony
A time-honored tradition. If you have a large group this can take 30+ minutes (this misguided article strongly supports receiving lines – Receiving Lines). Uncle Marv will want to spend 3 minutes telling you about his wedding and a bunch of people you don’t know will give you sweaty 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 is sharing in your day.
Your only chance to get this photo is right 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. Get everyone in attendance to stand together with a shot in hand.
This should 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.
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.
Ok, so earlier I said this article would be helpful to just about anyone? Well I lied. If you are having a dry wedding, many of the ideas here are useless to you.
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, 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 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 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 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.
- 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. The cake is 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 here 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.