This may seem like an obvious and trivial question but having a clear definition of what specifically makes a wedding ceremony a wedding ceremony is helpful in clarifying your role in the ceremony events. To begin, it is helpful to frame the wedding ceremony as the ritualization of the written contract, the marriage license. Marriage is a contract between two parties, and the wedding ceremony is the performative event that symbolizes that contract.
That being said, from the contractual perspective, there are three parts of the wedding ceremony that essential for the ceremony to be defined as a wedding. Those parts are the Invocation, Declaration of Intent, and Pronouncement. We will expand upon this further down on this page.
When officiating a wedding, your role as officiant is that of a third party administering the contract. As an AMM minister, you can think of yourself as the person administering the marital contract to the couple in a public setting. The Declaration of Intent, the part of the ceremony where the couple says "I Do" is where the couple gives their explicit consent to enter into the contract of marriage.
There is no legal form to a wedding ceremony, other than that the ceremony must include the three aforementioned parts - the Invocation, Declaration of Intent, and Pronouncement.
Beyond that, there are no legal requirements or guidelines imposed on the wording and events in the ceremony. That is completely up to you and the couple! If you want to have a steam punk themed wedding complete with a sermon on how steam, like love, can power the train of marriage, then go for it!
What are the parts to a wedding ceremony? What happens in each part? What do I do? When do I speak?
Below is a basic version of a wedding ceremony, split into 6 discreet parts. Later on we will cover how elaborate on this foundation to personalize the ceremony. However, let us first gain an understanding of the essential parts of the ceremony, and what happens in each part.
The procession marks the formal start of the wedding.
- Before the processional can start, the guests must all be seated.
- The officiant and wedding party enter and stand in their designated places, or the officiant stands at the lectern and the wedding party enters.
- Music often accompanies the processional, and typically the wedding party enters in a prescribed order (officiant and groom, bridesmaids and groomsmen, maid of honor and best man), all prior to the bride.
- Traditionally, everyone stands as the bride enters last, accompanied by her father or another person of significance in her life acting as her escort.
The officiant greets the guests, introduces the couple, announces the purpose of the gathering, and shares a few words on marriage.
- The officiant welcomes the guests.
- The officiant introduces the couple to the guests and states the purpose of the gathering. "We are gathered here today to join…"
- This introduction is your opportunity to share a few personal words or thoughts on marriage and love.
The couple publicly declares their intent to marry.
- The officiant asks the couple if they will have each other in marriage.
- The couple responds with, “I do,” or, “I will.”
- 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 officiant can address the wedding reception to ask if there is anyone that objects to the marriage. This is not required, but is sometimes included out of tradition.
The couple exchange vows, rings and promises of commitment to each other.
- The couple exchange vows that they have prepared.
- The officiant facilitates the exchange of vows with a simple announcement such as, “As you place this ring on your partner’s finger…”
- Rings are presented and exchanged.
- Conduct the ring exchange, assisting ring bearers as necessary.
- If other rituals are included in the ceremony, fulfill your part in those customs. These may include a unity candle, a sand ceremony, or something similar.
- Prior to the wedding, have the couple rehearse their vows with you separately. This allows them to prepare, without ruining the surprise of hearing their partner’s lines for the first time.
The marriage is declared official!
- Declare that the couple is married, “I now pronounce you…”
- 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.
- Tell the newlyweds to kiss!
The ceremony ends and the wedding party exits.
- The officiant introduces the newlyweds, “It is my honor to introduce…”
- The couple makes their way down the aisle.
- The wedding party exits next, followed by the guests.
- That's it! You're now ready to review some examples and compose your own ceremony.