How to Plan Your Wedding Ceremony (Complete Guide)

Whether you are planning a picturesque beachfront wedding in Hilton Head, SC, or a more traditional event in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC, the ceremony is the most formal part of your nuptials.

The process of getting married in front of family, friends, and colleagues can be intimidating.

At the same time, it is a very happy moment in your life when you reflect on how far your relationship has come.

Here is a sample sequence of a traditional wedding ceremony order to assist you in figuring out what to anticipate. You can tweak it in a variety of ways, but it generally follows the same steps.

Key Elements Of The Wedding Ceremony

wedding ceremony order

1. The Processional

The beginning of your wedding ceremony is headed by the processional. In this part, the wedding party is lined up and walks down the aisle in a pre-determined sequence, coupled with synchronized music and timing. 

The traditional order of the processional has the Officiant leading the way, followed by the Groom and his Best Man.

The Groomsmen follow next, and they are typically paired up with a Bridesmaid (or they walk alone if you don’t have an even number or you prefer it that way).

The Maid or Matron of Honor comes next, and she may or may not be followed by the Flower Girls and Ring Bearer.

Finally, the Bride walks down the aisle with her father (or whoever is giving her away).

2. Welcoming / Opening Praise / Opening Prayer

As soon as everyone who is part of the processional has settled on their designated positions, the officiant or minister would acknowledge everybody in the room and thank them for witnessing your marriage.

3. Introduction of Bride & Groom

Now the officiant will focus on the bride & groom, which could include reflecting on the meaning of getting married, their first memories of meeting with the couple, etc., and possibly how the couple met.

4. Readings and or Recitals

These are meaningful passages read from religious texts, or poems, or songs performed to make the wedding ceremony even more festive, emotionally filled, and significant.  Usually, the officiant will introduce each reader and singer.

5. Officiant Speaking to the Couple

The officiant will now refocus on the bride & groom and explain the duties and responsibilities of a married couple and the sacredness of their commitment to each other.

6. Exchanging Vows

A few minutes are given to each bride and groom to express their love and commitment to one another through their marriage vows.  You will anchor and deepen your personal promises guiding you throughout your journey that is about to begin. 

7. Exchanging Rings

The officiant is now directing you to the next part of the wedding ceremony, in which you repeat binding words while placing the rings on each other’s fingers.  This visually symbolizes the couple’s permanent tie and loyalty to each other. 

8. Marriage Declaration

The marriage declaration goes hand in hand with the exchanging of your rings.  This is the bride & groom’s declaration of intent when you say the literally “yes I do” after the officiant is asking you in front of witnesses, “Do you … take … to be your lawfully wedded… ” or “I, …, take you, …, to be my lawfully wedded…” ending with officially declaring you as husband and wife.

9. Bride & Groom Kiss

Your first kiss as husband & wife after tying the knot. Following such a pivotal moment, you will be able to relax now that the formal proceedings have been completed.

10. Unity Ceremony

If you are planning to add a unity ceremony, this is the best time to weave it into the fabric of the wedding ceremony.  It is another custom to symbolize your connection by, i.e., lighting a candle together or using another symbol to visualize your union (i.e., handfasting with a ribbon or pouring unity sand together from different vessels).

wedding ceremony unity candles

11. Closing Remarks

In closing the wedding ceremony, the officiant invites the guests to the reception, followed immediately by music for the recessional.

12. Recessional

At the conclusion of the wedding ceremony, the couple makes their grand exit. Following them should be the bridal party in reverse order of how they entered.

The Best Man & Maid of Honor exit first, followed by the Groomsmen & Bridesmaids, Parents, Flower Girl & Ringbearer, and Grandparents. Then the guests follow, usually starting with the closest row to the front of the room.

13. The Signing of Marriage License

Right after the wedding ceremony, the bride & groom, in the presence of their Officiant and witnesses, sign the marriage license to complete their legal union.

The Wedding Rehearsal

Wedding rehearsals usually take place the night before the big event and consist of practicing your wedding ceremony.

It’s not a must, but a wedding rehearsal will ease a lot of pressure on your wedding day because everyone will already know what to do. 

Ideally, you have a wedding coordinator or planner, the officiant, or the catering salesperson overseeing all the details of the rehearsal, including directing the ceremony following. 

It is straightforward to do your wedding rehearsal, and all you need is a space to use as a mock setup (or ideally the actual location).  Remember to prearrange space and time with your venue where the wedding ceremony is taking place.

An outline of who is walking down the aisle with whom and in what order should be drawn up in advance. To familiarize everyone with their positions, you can display a flip chart or print out copies of the outline.

Example Of A Traditional Processional

Allyson  &  Myron (MoB & Bride’s Brother)
Christina  &  John (MoG & FoG)
RichardBest Man
NicoleMaid of Honor
Olivia & JamesFlower Girl & Ring Bearer
Alice & WilliamBride & Father of the Bride
(MoB = Mother of the Bride; FoB = Father of the Bride
MoG = Mother of the Groom; FoG = Father of the Groom)
  • Plan on spending about 20-30 minutes on the rehearsal and repeat it one more time without assistance to get it into your muscle memory.
  • As a mock-up, place five or six chairs on either side of the aisle in front of the room (unless you are practicing in a church already set up).
  • Place everyone in the processional at the far end of the room.
  • During the first run, it is best to walk groups or individuals down the aisle one at a time and position them where they will be standing (or seated) in front of the room.
  • Practice the handover (the father of the bride hands his daughter over to the groom) so it looks smooth on the big day.
  • Rehearse, if you like, readings, recitals, and wedding vows.
  • The recessional is easy, and here’s what you need to do: the bride and groom will walk out first for their grand exit. Once they reach the end of the aisle, the best man and maid of honor will follow.
  • After the Bridesmaids and Groomsmen pair off and leave, the Officiant will be next, followed by the Bride’s Parents. The Groom’s Parents will then follow them, possibly with Grandparents in tow. Lastly, all remaining guests are free to exit.
wedding rehearsal
wedding ceremony
  • Before leaving, remind everyone where to meet on the wedding day and at what time they must arrive and be ready in the green room or in the area where everyone will gather before the processional.

Final Moments Before Walking Down the Aisle

About 15 minutes before the wedding ceremony, everybody who is part of the processional should assemble in a waiting area or green room. 

By this time, everyone should have finished using the restrooms, fixing their hair and makeup, making phone calls, and wandering around the venue.  

Ensure everyone has their flower bouquets, boutonnieres are fastened securely, and corsages are given to mothers. 

If you cannot see each other before the ceremony, you have to make arrangements so that you don’t run into each other by accident. 

In this case, the Groom, Best Man, and Groomsmen will get ready and wait in a separate area. 

While lining up the bridal party for the procession, the bride needs to stay hidden in close proximity. As soon as the Groom walked down the aisle, she would take her position.

To avoid repositioning, leave the waiting area (“green room”) in the same order that you intend to walk down the aisle. Be sure to keep your spots and wait until you are called.

During this stage, your wedding planner or coordinator should have made sure the following things were in place:

  • Confirming that all guests have arrived and are seated for the wedding ceremony.
  • Checking with the musicians that they are set & ready and waiting to be cued should there be any changes of songs for specific individuals walking down the aisle (usually, at least the Bride will have her own piece of music)
  • Ensuring that the photographer is set up at both ends of the aisle to capture both processional and recessional.
  • Double checking that the microphones for the officiant and readings are switched on.
  • Ensure that any ceremonial items and props are set up and ready in front of the room (i.e., unity candles, or, i.e., in a Jewish wedding ceremony, the kiddush cup, kosher wine, the glass for the Groom to break, etc.)
  • Managing the entrance (taking care of latecomers)
  • Lining you up as practiced in the rehearsal.
  • Keeping the Bride separate if B&G cannot see each other.
  • Sending each person down the aisle in perfect timing and preplanned sequence.

As you are being lined up, here are a few last things you want to double-check:

  • Your outfits (hooks & eyes are fastened, and men’s jacket buttons are closed)
  • Bowties are neat and straight.
  • Cellphones are silenced.
  • Wedding bands are with the Best Man.
  • Everyone has their wedding bouquets.
  • Nobody is missing.

Snapshots Of The Final Moments Before Walking Down The Aisle

  • Ok, this is the moment!  The wedding ceremony is about to start.
  • All guests are seated.
  • Music is playing.
  • Everyone in the processional is lined up.
  • Doors open.
  • The officiant will walk down the aisle or will enter in front from the side.
  • The first pair (i.e., the Mother of the Bride & Bride’s Brother) or a single person is going down the aisle.
  • The wedding planner/coordinator is cueing each wedding party attendant when it is their turn.
  • Doors close right after the last group or person walks down the aisle before it is the Bride’s turn.
  • Bride &, i.e., her father, line up behind the closed door.
  • If you have an aisle runner that needs to be pulled down, now is the time.
  • The wedding planner/coordinator is arranging the bride’s wedding dress train (& veil if applicable) one last time.
  • Doors open again.
  • Song change for the Bride.  Off you go!  Congratulations!

Additional Tips:

  • Place the musicians in a spot where they can see the processional to better synchronize the different pieces of music to each portion of the ceremony.
  • Walk down the aisle at a natural but slow pace as if you were window shopping.
  • Do not hold onto your bridal bouquet too tightly or too high.
  • After you exit from the wedding ceremony, the Newlyweds should take a ten-minute recess in a separate room to have some alone time and decompress.  The wedding venue (unless you are at a church or synagogue) should ideally have champagne and beverages available for you, and some hors d’oeuvres.  Then sign the Marriage License with the officiant and witnesses.

Final Thoughts

One of the most important things to consider is the rehearsal and practicing your wedding ceremony the day before.

Nerves and emotions can run red hot right before the ceremony. Here’s when you will be able to reap the benefits of all your planning. For this reason, the ceremony should receive considerable attention.

Doing so will remove any worries about the ceremony on your wedding day and you can focus on getting ready, taking photos, and mingling with your bridal party, family, and friends.

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