If the wedding ceremony order is a bit overwhelming and you have some questions about which rites to include and when, that's completely normal. The great news is that most ceremonies follow a similar format, so if you've been to (or been in) a few, you've probably got an idea of how the wedding order of service usually flows.
Of course, different cultures and religions incorporate different distinctive elements, and there's so much to love about each! "Traditional, Jewish, Catholic, and nondenominational weddings usually have ring exchanges whereas Hindu weddings exchange beautiful garlands created from flowers," says wedding planner Victoria Miller.
Meet the Expert
Victoria Miller is the founder and lead wedding planner at LUXE Atlanta Events, a wedding planning company based in Atlanta.
Traditional and nondenominational wedding ceremonies are most flexible and similar to each other in terms of structure while religious ceremonies aren't as adjustable. Catholic weddings, for instance, must always be held inside a church—no exceptions. While there tend to be variations based on regional and ethnic differences in each type of wedding ceremony, we're breaking down the main structure of each type of ceremony for you to use as the ultimate guide in creating a ceremony of your own.
Traditional Wedding Ceremony Order
Traditional wedding ceremonies are perfect for the classic couple who wants a more conventional celebration. "There is typically a welcome or introduction by the minister, followed by the exchange of vows. The couple then exchanges rings, and after the couple shares a kiss, the minister announces them for the first time as a married couple," says Miller.
1. The Processional
First off, the processional. This is when members of your immediate family and wedding party head down the aisle and either find a seat or take their places on either side of the altar. The processional begins with the bride's mother and follows with the groom, best man, paired-up wedding party, flower girl, and ring bearer. It ends with the bride making her entrance escorted by her father who "gives her away" to the groom.
2. Words of Welcome
Once everyone is in place, the officiant will say a few words of welcome. The officiant may thank guests for bearing witness to your union as well as welcome everyone.
Next, the officiant will offer an introduction and some thoughts on marriage. This could be a brief recounting of your love story, words on what marriage means to you, or a statement about the ceremony to come and what it represents.
From there, if you are including readings of any sort in your ceremony, readers will be invited up to share a few words. You could have your officiant introduce each reading and reader or have things flow more naturally between readers.
5. Officiant Addresses Couple
This is when the officiant addresses you and talks about the responsibilities of marriage and the sanctity of the vows you're about to take.
6. Exchange Vows
After the readings have been shared, the two of you will take turns reciting your vows. This is often the emotional part of the ceremony, especially if you write your own vows.
You could opt to write your own vows, share personal statements and then exchange the same vows, or use traditional phrasing.
7. Ring Exchange
After each person recites the vows, you will place the rings on each other's fingers. It's considered a symbol of your marriage. You may opt to perform the ring exchange quickly without vows, or you may say a few words about what the ring symbolizes before placing it on your partner's finger.
8. The Kiss
Now, the good part! After you've exchanged vows and rings, the two of you seal your marriage with a kiss. You're officially married!
9. Unity Ceremony
If you're planning on having a unity ceremony, this is a good time to incorporate it. In a unity ritual, the couple does something that physically symbolizes their new union, such as using two candles to light a single candle or binding their hands together with a ribbon.
10. Closing Remarks
If your ceremony is a religious affair, this is the proper time for a final prayer. Typically, closing prayers are the same as final blessings after each religious ceremony and the officiant can call for the congregation to lift their hands to join in blessing them. If it's not religious, the officiant can say words of encouragement to the couple, bless them in their union, or read a requested prayer or poem aloud. Typical prayers involve asking for prosperity, faithfulness, and a strong bond.
11. The Recessional
This is where the officiant pronounces you married and turns to the guests to introduce the married couple for the first time and encourages guests to applaud and celebrate the newlyweds. Then, the newlyweds lead the recessional down the aisle as guests cheer for your union. The order is the reverse of the processional.
Jewish Wedding Ceremony Order
Prior to the ceremony, the couple signs a marriage contract, called the ketubah, in private. It could be signed at the groom's reception, the day before the wedding, or even 30 minutes before the ceremony begins. It's proceeded by the bedeken, or the veiling, where the groom veils his bride's face. This tradition comes from the story of Jacob in the Bible, who was tricked into marrying the sister of his betrothed because she was veiled.
Unlike other ceremonies, in Jewish weddings, the bride and her party are on the right while the groom and his party are on the left. Perhaps the most famous parts of the Jewish wedding are the glass breaking and the yelling of "mazel tov!"
1. The Processional
The rabbi and/or cantor have the option of leading the processional or arriving from the side to mark the beginning of the ceremony. The grandparents of the bride, who are the first to walk down the aisle, will sit in the first row on the right side followed by the grandparents of the groom who will sit on the left side. The groomsmen will then enter in pairs followed by the best man. Finally, the groom, escorted by his parents, will walk to the chuppah. The bridesmaids follow in pairs then the maid of honor, the ring bearer(s), or flower girl(s). Finally, the bride walks to the chuppah, escorted by both parents.
2. Vows Under the Chuppah
Jewish wedding ceremonies are conducted under a beautiful four-poled canopy structure called a chuppah. You recite your vows to each other under the structure, which represents the creation of a new Jewish home. You could be accompanied by your parents under the chuppah or stand alone.
3. Hakafot (or Circling)
Once you arrive at the chuppah, a ritual called circling, hailing from the Ashkenazi tradition, occurs where the bride circles the groom seven times. It symbolizes the bride creating a wall of protection over the groom. Typically, there is a blessing, and you share a drink of wine from the same cup. More modern couples circle each other three times each and then once again each to signify a more equitable division of roles.
4. Ring Exchange
The groom then gives a ring to the bride, and the ketubah is read aloud. Many ceremonies recite the blessings and prayers in Hebrew, but more modern weddings incorporate English so non-Hebrew-speaking guests can understand the sacred elements.
5. Sheva Brachot: Seven Blessings
The seven blessings are chanted over the couple. Though they are typically recited by the officiant, you may choose family members and honored guests to recite the text in Hebrew or English. Then you both take another drink from the cup.
6. Breaking of the Glass
"The bride then gives the groom his ring after which the groom breaks a glass by stomping on it, which symbolizes the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem," says Miller. Usually preceded by reading a verse from Psalm 137, which preaches to keep Jerusalem in mind even at the happiest hour, the breaking of the glass is a sobering reminder that even at a couple's happiest they should reflect on a sad moment in their history. The glass is typically wrapped in a cloth to avoid any injuries.
7. Mazel Tov
Ah, the guests' favorite! After the breaking of the glass, guests are invited to shout "mazel tov!" It means congratulations.
Hindu Wedding Ceremony Order
If you've been to a Hindu wedding, you'll know that they are often long, fantastical, and opulent events. "Hindu weddings are traditionally elaborate events lasting multiple days. While the ceremony is only one of the days, the festivities and traditions surrounding the wedding stretch the event out," says Miller.
1. Baraat (the Groom's Arrival)
The baraat is the groom's wedding procession where the groom arrives on a ceremonial white horse escorted by all his friends and family. There is often live music and dancing, which can go on for hours. The groom can also make a grand entrance on an elephant, chariot, or vintage car.
The groom is greeted by the parents of the bride and her closest friends during the milni. He could be given shagun—a token of good luck—cash, or clothes. Sometimes the bride's parents feed him.
3. Jai Mala Garland Exchange
"The bride and groom perform a garland exchange under a mandap or a beautifully decorated, raised canopy-like platform," says Miller. It symbolizes welcoming each other into their families. The bride's parents will join the couple's hands, as a symbol of giving their daughter away. The ceremony begins, the couple is joined by their parents under the mandap, and the priest begins prayers in Sanskrit.
4. Agni Poojan
In the center of the mandap, a sacred fire, or Agni Poojan, is lit. The rite invokes the fire deity Agni, brought to life through the fire, to bear witness to the celebration. The bride throws fistfuls of rice to the fire as offerings known as homam.
This is where you take seven steps together to symbolize friendship—the basis of a Hindu marriage. Depending on specific geographical traditions, your garments may be tied together, and you may take seven steps or circle the fire seven times. This is the most important step in a Hindu marriage, and after this, you are officially married.
6. Final Blessings
"The ceremony typically ends with prayers, readings, and blessings from their elders," says Miller. The couple's parents and priest typically bless the newlyweds but special guests are also encouraged to join in.
This marks the end of the ceremony where you bless each other by showering each other with rice, saffron, and turmeric. These are believed to rake in prosperity in your marriage.
Catholic Wedding Ceremony Order
A Catholic ceremony is always held in a church. The Catholic Church believes that marriage, also known as the sacrament of matrimony, is a sacred covenant between the couple and God, and because God is present in the physical church, there is no other place to celebrate a blessed union. Outdoor Catholic wedding ceremonies just do not exist. (The architecture of churches is gorgeous though, so it's definitely an experience to witness weddings in beautiful, grand places of worship!) Also, couples do not write their own vows, and the marriage rites are often part of a bigger Catholic mass.
1. The Processional
During Catholic weddings, the priest and the ministers often walk to the altar as part of the processional. When the priest arrives at the altar, that's when the wedding party follows. The groom enters followed by the best man, groomsmen, maid of honor, bridesmaids, ring bearer, flower girl, and bride escorted by her father.
2. Entrance Rites
Catholic weddings are often in the form of the mass, especially if both parties are Catholic. The priest begins with rites and a prayer. This is where the congregation joins in to sing or recite the Kyrie and the Gloria hymns.
To start off the Liturgy of the Word, designated guests or family members will be assigned readings from the Bible. One from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, and the responsorial psalm that the guests will repeat in unison. Miller says that at least one of these readings will explicitly be about marriage.
If you are unable to fit all your loved ones into the bridal party, assign them to readings instead, which are a big part of the mass. Otherwise, assign them to bring gifts to the altar as part of the offertory.
Everyone rises as the priest reads a select passage from one of the gospels from the four evangelists Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. While gospel reading selections tend to be based on the liturgical calendar, the priest may opt to read a passage on marriage or love. The congregation remains standing until the gospel is finished.
Guests are seated while the priest interprets the gospel. This is also known as the sermon, where the priest gives a speech about marriage and says a little bit about the couple's union.
6. Rite of Marriage (Vows)
The Catholic Church has its own set of vows, no embellishments or personalization allowed. You could either memorize or read the vows off a book, or you could have the priest read them to you and respond with the classic "I do."
7. Ring Ceremony
This is where the ring exchange happens. The priest will bless the wedding rings with a prayer and a sprinkling of holy water. Then, each party will place the ring on the partner's finger. They will typically recite a version of, "Take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."
Usually set to a tune, select guests will walk down the aisle to offer gifts, while seated guests will be invited to offer donations to the church via a donation basket to be passed around. The couple usually chooses who to include in the offertory.
9. Liturgy of the Eucharist
This begins with the priest praying over bread and wine. It's believed to transform them into the Holy Eucharist, or the body and blood of Christ. The guests usually kneel and bow their heads during this part of the mass, which is considered to be the most sacred.
10. Lord's Prayer
This is where the congregation recites or sings the Lord's Prayer in unison. Everyone is encouraged to hold hands, but it's not mandatory.
11. Sign of Peace
The priest will offer guests peace and will encourage guests to do the same. Attendees turn to their neighbors and greet each other with a sign of peace, typically a handshake. You can offer a casual hello or simply say "peace be with you."
12. Holy Communion
This is where members of the congregation line up to receive the Holy Eucharist. The tradition represents the Last Supper where Jesus offered bread and wine to his disciples. Those who don't wish to be a part of it or those who haven't had confession in a while may stay in their seats.
13. The Kiss
A crowd favorite, this is where the priest tells the groom to kiss the bride. This symbolizes you are now officially married. The groom usually has to lift the veil before the kiss. If you want to make sure photos of this moment are just right, have the maid of honor or a bridesmaid make sure the veil is properly lifted.
14. Nuptial Blessing
The priest gives the final blessing to the members of the congregation. It's the same prayer that the priest recites at the end of every weekly mass. It ends with the priest saying, "Go in peace." The congregation responds with, "Thanks be to God."
15. The Recessional
The wedding party and the newlyweds walk down the aisle in reverse order of which they came in. Flower girls usually sprinkle petals as they walk down the aisle, or guests can be given either rice to throw or blow bubbles at the couple as they walk past.
Nondenominational Wedding Ceremony Order
The ceremony order at nondenominational weddings is similar to traditional weddings but with a lot more flexibility for couples to put their own stamp on rituals. "The couple may choose to include a unifying ritual within the ceremony, such as a unity candle or similar ritual," says Miller.
1. The Processional
The groom and the groomsmen can choose to enter from the side and wait for the wedding party to walk down the aisle. If the groom chooses to lead the processional, he will be followed by the best man, groomsmen and bridesmaids (typically in pairs), maid of honor, ring bearer and flower girl, and the bride with one or both parents.
2. Opening Remarks
The officiant gives the opening remarks and addresses the guests. There's usually a small introduction about the couple and what the gathering is about and what it means.
For non-religious ceremonies, you may assign guests to read prayers, your favorite passages from novels, favorite poems, or even meaningful quotes. It's up to you how many readings you want.
4. Unity Candle
Couples typically opt to light a unity candle during nondenominational ceremonies. As you light the candle, the officiant narrates the importance of the act as a symbol of commitment and unity.
5. Unifying Ritual
Nondenominational weddings are extremely customizable and couples may opt to personalize the unifying ritual based on their passions or based on something meaningful to their love. You may choose to do a handfasting ritual, jump the broom, pour sand, create a time capsule, or even plant a tree, among others.
6. Exchange of Vows
This is where the two of you exchange vows. Your vows can be personalized, memorized, or facilitated by the officiant. You can also opt to go the traditional route where you're asked the famous question of whether you take your partner to be your spouse in sickness and in health, and so on, for that perfect "I do" moment.
7. Exchange of Rings
After the vows, you each place a ring on the other's finger to symbolize your marriage. You may also opt to recite vows specific to the rings if you like, but it's not needed.
8. The Kiss
Ah, our favorite part, this is where you kiss. Congratulations, you are now newlyweds!