Wedding Ceremony Format
How a Wedding Ceremony is Structured
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
Entrance of the Wedding Party
- Invocation *
Introduction of the Couple
- Vow Exchange
The Couple Exchange Prepared Vows
- Declaration of Intent *
The Verbal Declaration to Wed
- Ring Exchange
The Couple Exchange Rings
- Pronouncement *
The Marriage is Declared Official
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 marks the beginning of the wedding ceremony with the entrance of the bride.
- 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).
- With the couple, coordinate an outline of what you will say. They may insist upon a particular reading or have strong feelings about something they do not want you to say.
3Vow Exchange "I promise to…"
The couple exchange vows and promises of commitment to each other.
- The couple exchange vows that they have prepared.
- Announce that the couple has prepared vows for each other.
- 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.
- During the ceremony, facilitate the exchange of vows with an introduction.
4Declaration 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.
5Ring Exchange "With this ring, I thee wed"
The couple exchange wedding rings as a symbol of their commitment.
- Ring bearer(s), or the minister present the rings.
- The couple exchange rings.
- Assist the ring bearers if necessary.
- Facilitate the exchange of rings with a simple announcement or "repeat after me…".
- While it is not necessary, you can give a blessing, introduce the exchange of rings, or simply let the couple speak.
- Introducing the rings is traditionally a repeat-after-me event. The minister directs the couple to repeat the words: "With this ring, I thee wed."
- The couple may also choose to include a unity candle, prayer, or other customary ritual during this part of the ceremony.
6Pronouncement “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.
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 15 - 20 minutes.
Keep it simple and have fun!
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.