Once in awhile I meet with an engaged couple and one or both of them tell me that they have never attended a wedding. Although this is the exception, it got me thinking about how much (or little) any engaged couple knows about the elements in a wedding ceremony. Even if a couple has attended a wedding or two, how much knowledge was retained about how it all went down? Afterall, the ceremony is followed by an evening of cocktails, dinner and dancing.
So now it's your turn to tie the knot and plan your wedding ceremony. It can be overwhelming knowing where to start if you have no or limited knowledge about the framework of a wedding ceremony. Here is where an experienced officiant can help!
A wedding ceremony begins with the processional. Once the officiant takes their place after the guests have been seated, the parents, grandparents or other VIP guests enter down the aisle to processional music. Sometimes the groom (or same sex partner) enters with his/her parents. The groom and groomsmen can also walk down the aisle, enter from the side or escort the bridesmaids and then the bridesmaids (if not escorted by groomsmen), flowergirls and ring bearers proceed. Usually there is a change in music, the guests rise and the bride (or same sex partner) and his/her escort walk down the aisle. In same sex weddings, sometimes each partner comes down the aisle with an escort immediately following the rest of the bridal party. Although these are all pretty traditional options, there is no "right" way. This is your day after all and you and your future spouse can make up the rules!
Once everyone is in place the ceremony officially begins. Oftentimes the couple will want the officiant to first ask the escort(s) or parent(s) for their blessing. This is an old tradition that originally intended for the "bride" to be given away to the "groom". Nowadays there are ways of approaching this that are modern and can include all the parents or special loved ones. Of course, this doesn't have to be part of your ceremony if it does not feel right to you.
As the ceremony begins, your guests are welcomed and thanked and the option of acknowledging loved ones as being present in spirit can be included. As the ceremony continues the officiant will usually share a few words about you and your love and perhaps some wisdom about the meaning of marriage.
If a prayer or blessing is important to you, of course it should be included in your ceremony. You can discuss with your officiant how much or how little reference to spirituality or religion you would like. Many times, a couple getting married are from two different religious backgrounds, or perhaps religion was not a part of their lives. It's good to be open about what feels right to you when you meet with your officiant. Your wedding day is about you!
Vows are a big part of the wedding ceremony. You may choose to write your own or you may choose to have your officiant provide them. The vows can be read or memorized (although this can be a challenge on your wedding day!) or your officiant can prompt you to repeat after him/her. Vows are the promises of commitment you are making to one another and therefore should be meaningful and thoughtful.
The declaration of intention is the moment when you say "I do!" Your officiant will ask each of you if you take one another to be wed and you will each respond I do or I will. This is the part of the wedding ceremony (along with the marriage license) that makes the marriage legally binding. The declaration of intention is essential!
You may wish to have a unity moment during the ceremony. The unity moment is a symbolic, visual way to represent your union. This moment can be classic and traditional (like a unity candle lighting) or unique and unexpected. An experienced officiant will help you design the perfect unity moment. I have lots of ideas to share and I have been given lots of unity moment ideas from couples as well. Sometimes cultural traditions are recognized during the unity moment. The unity moment is a way you can put your signature on your wedding ceremony.
Sometimes a couple decides to invite someone up to do a reading in honor of their wedding day. The reading can be spiritual, biblical or something from literature, poetry or music. Usually one or two readings is perfect. The reader may be someone you wanted to include in a special way in your wedding day, maybe it's a parent, a member of your bridal party or a dear friend. Your officiant can give you options or you may select your own readings. The most important thing, if you choose to have readings, is that they resonate with you!
Once vows and I do's have happened, wedding rings are exchanged. Traditionally the best man holds the rings, although sometimes the ring bearer has them. I find that most couples give the ring bearer symbolic rings to carry down the aisle and have an adult hold on to the actual bling! Another variation is to have the best man (or woman) hold one ring and have the maid/matron/man of honor hold the other. The officiant will ask for the rings and give them to each of you to place on the other's finger as you say a few words. Like the vows, those words can be your own, memorized or prompted by the officiant.
After the ring exchange, the officiant may say a few closing words, you are pronounced married and you get to share your first married kiss - yay!! You may ask your officiant to introduce you as Mr. and Mrs. before the music begins again and your recessional begins.
During the recessional the married couple walk back up the aisle, followed by the wedding party, parents and officiant. Of course everyone can't wait to say congratulations to the newlyweds and then the party begins!!
My best advice for creating your wedding ceremony are these three things:
1. Select an officiant that you have good chemistry with. You want someone knowledgeable, experienced, responsive and with good reviews. Ask for references, meet with possible choices and then go with your gut. Your officiant should feel right, it will make all the difference in the sincerity of your ceremony and the feelings that are shared and evoked.
2. Create a wedding ceremony that is meaningful to you. The party is wonderful but it is your ceremony that sets the tone for the rest of the celebration. The wedding day is about getting married after all, so invest some time in making sure your ceremony is memorable. Remember, you have all the creative license in the world to dream up the ceremony you are wishing for and the right officiant will make that dream come true. It's more than okay to color outside the lines, think outside the box or keep close to tradition. Your wedding ceremony is the reflection of who you are as a couple and the only right way to do it is to be you!
3. Breathe, relax, enjoy, take in every moment, be present. This is a once in a lifetime, best day ever experience and you don't want to miss a thing.
I wish you every happiness and all the best as you plan your wedding ceremony. I am happy to meet with you for a consultation and help in anyway possible. May you all enjoy decades of health and joy as you journey through life together!