Wedding Ceremony Format
Learn about the parts of a wedding ceremony so you can format your own. Here we examine the structure of a basic ceremony, break it down to its constituent parts, and explain each individual event.
Parts of a Wedding Ceremony
- Processional Entrance of the Wedding Party
- Invocation *Introduction of the Couple
- Declaration of Intent *The Verbal Declaration to Wed
- Vows & Rings Exchange Exchange of Vows and Rings
- Pronouncement *The Marriage is Declared Official
- Recessional The Wedding Party Exits
* In a basic wedding ceremony, the minister has only three main speaking parts: the Invocation, Declaration of Intent, and Pronouncement.
Wedding Ceremony Parts Explained
1Procession Here comes the bride...
The procession formally marks the beginning of the wedding.
- Guests are seated.
- The minister and wedding party enter, assuming their places.
- Enter with the wedding party or stand ready at the lectern.
- The purpose of the processional is to ensure guests are seated, seat the distinguished guests, and allow the wedding party to take the stage.
- Music often accompanies the processional, and typically the wedding party enters in a prescribed order (minister and groom, bridesmaids and groomsmen, maid of honor and best man), all prior to the bride.
- Traditionally, the bride enters last, accompanied by her father or another person of significance in her life.
2Invocation "We are gathered here…"
The minister greets the reception, introduces the couple, and announces the purpose of the gathering.
- The minister welcomes the guests.
- The minister introduces the couple, stating the purpose of the gathering.
- Welcome the wedding guests. "Dearly Beloved, …"
- Introduce the couple to the guests and state the purpose of the gathering. "We are gathered here to join…"
- This introduction is your opportunity to share a few personal words.
- You can share a heartfelt story or a reading (poems, religious texts, and literary passages are all great choices).
- Prior to the ceremony, coordinate an outline of what you will say with the couple. They may insist upon a particular reading or have strong feelings about something they do not want you to say.
3Declaration of Intent “Do you take…”
The couple publicly declares their intent to marry.
- The minister asks the couple if they will have each other in marriage.
- The couple responds with, "I do," or, "I will."
- Ask the couple if they will have each other in marriage.
- This is the verbal equivalent of signing the marriage license. The Declaration of Intent is the couple's public declaration that they are knowingly and willingly entering the contract of marriage.
- The minister can address the wedding reception to ask if there is anyone that objects to the marriage. This is not required, but is included in many weddings out of tradition.
4Vows & Rings Exchange "I promise to…"
The couple exchange vows, rings and promises of commitment to each other.
- The couple exchange vows that they have prepared.
- Rings are presented and exchanged.
- Special customs may also be observed here.
- Facilitate the exchange of vows with a simple announcement.
- Conduct the ring exchange, assisting ring bearers as necessary.
- If other rituals are included in the ceremony, fulfill your part in those customs.
- Prior to the wedding, you can have the couple rehearse their vows with you, individually. This creates an opportunity to prepare while preserving the surprise for the wedding.
- Additions may include a unity candle, prayer, or sand ceremony.
- You can give a blessing to introduce the exchange of vows, rings, or any other component of the ceremony.
5Pronouncement “"I now pronounce you…"
The marriage is declared official!
- The minister pronounces the couple married and tells them to kiss.
- Declare that the couple is married.
- Tell the newlyweds to kiss!
- This is the symbolic binding of the marriage contract.
- Many pronouncements begin with the phrase, "By the power vested in me by the State of…" This phrase reflects the fact that marriage is both a spiritual and legal event, and that the authority to solemnize marriage is regulated by the government.
The ceremony ends and the wedding party exits.
- The minister introduces the newlyweds.
- The couple makes their way down the aisle.
- The wedding party exits next, followed by the guests.
- Introduce the newlyweds!
- That's it! You're now ready to review some examples and compose your own ceremony.
This is the format for a basic wedding ceremony. All weddings include these parts however there are many types of ceremonies (candle, hand fasting, etc) that may involve extra duties and speaking parts for the minister. It is your responsibility to coordinate the details of the ceremony with the couple.
Additions to the Ceremony
The above outline describes a very straightforward, recognizable version of a wedding ceremony. Many weddings also include additional parts to reflect the beliefs, values, and personal preferences of the couple. Some common additions include:
- Blessing - A blessing to the couple can be offered by the minister or a member of the wedding party. Blessings can be religious or secular.
- Charge to Couple - Similar to the Declaration of Intent, a charge has the minister emphasize the seriousness of the marital contract to the couple. It is often punctuated by acknowledgements such as, "I agree" or "I understand."
- Giving of the Bride - The minister calls out to the wedding party and asks who gives the bride in marriage. Traditionally, the father and/or mother of the bride reply that they consent to giving their daughter in marriage.
- Prayer - Many religious ceremonies include a prayer given by the minister.
- Readings - Poems, religious texts, and/or literary passages can be read by the minister or members of the wedding party.
- Sermon - Many religious ceremonies include a sermon given by the minister.
- Unity Candle - A unity candle ceremony involves the ceremonial merger of flames. Two candles are lit and the couple joins their individual flames together to light a third candle (representing two lives joined as one). Variations include participation from family, such as candles for children to join in the union of the new family.
- Sand Ceremony - Sand ceremonies are a variation of the unity candle symbol. Two vessels of sand are poured together, mixing the sand. Each grain of sand is representative of a thought, feeling, or experience. A common variation is to give each member of the wedding party a small pebble. Each person offers a blessing as they deposit their pebble into a container, which the couple uses to combine their sand.
Remember, there are no limitations! We encourage you to work with the couple to craft a unique ceremony that reflects their wishes.
A typical ceremony lasts only 10 - 15 minutes.
Keep it simple and have fun!