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What to Plan for in a Marriage Ceremony

The engaged couple should meet with their clergyperson or judge to learn the religious and legal requirements that must be fulfilled prior to the wedding. In addition, the couple should inquire about policies of the church or synagogue. When selecting the location for the marriage ceremony foremost considerations are the date availability and seating capacity. Rules regarding decorations, music, and photography and usage and security fees also need to be considered. For guests to enjoy the ceremony, the site should be checked for air-conditioning or heating, and sufficient acoustics. Most bridal parties also appreciate separate dressing rooms for the bride and her maids and the groomsmen.

The couple should review the service with their clergyperson at least several weeks before the wedding to determine the rites that can be personalized. Some couples choose to write their own vows, while others choose special readings to incorporate in the service or cultural elements that reflect their heritage.

Special friends and relatives can present a favorite reading, hymn, or song in the service. If the guest register is placed at the ceremony site, a relative or friend may be asked to preside over the guestbook. Many interfaith couples will invite each of their clergypersons to share in conducting the wedding service. Every religion has traditions that can be incorporated into the ceremony.

Setting Up the Rehearsal

Most rehearsals take place the day before the wedding and may be followed by a rehearsal dinner celebration. The rehearsal should be scheduled at a time when all members of the wedding party can be in attendance. In addition to the wedding party and the clergyperson, all musicians and soloists should be present to perform. The wedding coordinator of the church or synagogue should preside over the rehearsal.

Attire for the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner should reflect the setting of the rehearsal and the dinner. The bride and groom-to-be need to inform all participants of the appropriate dress and location of both the rehearsal and dinner. The average rehearsal will require at least an hour of time to run through the entire ceremony and allow the wedding party to practice the processional and recessional several times.

Costs that Arise at a House of Worship

The church or synagogue may impose a usage fee for weddings taking place on its premises or may require that a custodian be on hand to make sure the facilities are in complete working order. Usage fees may be waived for members of the congregation. In some houses of worship, it may be expected that the bride's family make a donation in honor of the newlyweds as a token of appreciation for the clergyperson's participation. If the wedding is staged at a neutral site, in addition to a usage fee, a neutral site may require payment of a security deposit for insurance.

Transportation for the Wedding Party

A traditional stretch limousine should provide enough room for the bride in her gown and her attendants. Other choices include an antique car, trolley, or horse and carriage.

The Wedding Ceremony

Most weddings begin with the prelude and follow with the processional, welcome, readings, benediction, vows, exchange of rings, blessing, and recessional. On average, the marriage ceremony takes about thirty minutes.

Although few guests will arrive more than thirty minutes before the service, the ushers should be prepared to greet guests about an hour before the ceremony. In a Christian wedding, the bride's family and friends are seated on the left side of the church, and the groom's family and friends are seated on the right side. For a Jewish wedding, the bride's family and friends are seated on the right side of the synagogue, and the groom's family and friends are seated on the left.

Prelude music to welcome guests should start about thirty minutes before the ceremony. The prelude music should be performed until the processional is ready. If the bride is running behind schedule, the prelude music should continue until all members of the wedding party have assembled.

How the Processional Begins

The seating of the grandparents and the mothers is a signal to the guests that the processional is about to begin. The groom's mother should be seated first. Once both mothers have taken their places, the ushers should unfurl the aisle runner. The clergyperson finds a place just before the processional music begins. The bride has two choices related to the assembly of the men of the wedding party. The men can follow the clergyperson before the processional begins, entering from the chancery. In a more formal mode, the processional can begin with the entrance of the ushers, followed by the best man and the groom. The bridesmaids lead the processional, followed by the maid or matron of honor. The children follow the bride's honor attendant, just before the bride.

The bride can determine her preference for the attendants entering singly or in pairs, taking into consideration the number of attendants and the layout of the church or synagogue. Each member of the wedding party should be in his or her place before the bridal march begins. The congregation or guests usually take their cue from the mother of the bride to stand at the moment she does.

Role of the Ring Bearer

By tradition, the ring bearer carries the wedding bands on his decorative pillow. However, it is the responsibility of the maid or matron of honor and the best man to present the wedding bands for the exchange of rings. It's a good idea for the honor attendants to carry the actual rings and for the ring bearer to have artificial rings attached to his pillow.

Arrangements at the Altar

If the altar is large enough to accommodate the entire wedding party, they should stand on either side of the bride and groom. If the altar cannot hold the wedding party comfortably, the attendants should be seated in the first row of the church or synagogue. It is the bride's preference whether the maids and ushers take respective sides of the altar or stand in pairs on either side of the bride and groom.

Escorting the Bride Down the Aisle

The bride's father is the prime candidate to escort his daughter down the aisle. However, if the bride's father is deceased, or simply not present, a grandfather, brother, uncle or close male friend may escort her down the aisle. Also, it is not mandatory that the bride has an escort for the march down the aisle. Older brides, in particular, may choose to walk down the aisle alone. Ultimately, it is the bride's decision which man will have the honor of escorting her down the aisle.

Some Aspects of a Jewish Wedding

The rabbi and cantor lead the Jewish processional, followed by the grandparents, the ushers, the groom escorted by his parents, the bridesmaids, and the bride escorted by her parents.

A prominent part of these ceremonies, the chuppah, or wedding canopy, which is a representation of the Jewish home, symbolizing shelter yet openness. This sanctuary without walls is erected on the altar, under which the wedding party stands during the marriage service

The ketubah, or wedding covenant, is a marriage contract signed by the bride and groom in front of witnesses before the ceremony. The ancient ketubah protected the bride's rights as a married woman and assured her care and protection by the groom.

The 'Aaufruf,' a German word meaning "calling up," refers to the rite at which the prospective bride and groom join the rabbi on the bimah (pulpit) to participate in the Torah reading. It is traditional for the rabbi to offer some personal remarks about the upcoming wedding and offer a blessing for the couple's happiness. Sometimes, as the bride- and groom-to-be return to their seats, the congregation showers them with candy as a symbol of their good wishes for a sweet and fulfilling marriage.

Following the rabbi's pronouncing the couple as husband and wife, the groom stomps on glass wrapped in a linen napkin. The shattered glass serves as a reminder of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, teaches that even in times of great joy there is also sadness in life, and warns that love, like glass, is fragile and must be protected.

The Tradition of the Unity Candle

The unity candle symbolizes the joining of two families and is lit by the bridal couple after professing their vows. Typically, a small station is arranged near the altar containing two tapered candles and a larger, decorated unity candle. As each mother is escorted to her seat before the processional, she approaches the station and lights a candle to represent her family. The individual candles burn throughout the service until the newlyweds take their respective candles and together ignite the unity candle.

If the Wedding is a Civil Ceremony

A civil ceremony can be staged in any number of locations, including at home, in a garden, at poolside, in a hotel, or on a cruise ship. Officiants that may preside over a civil ceremony are controlled by regulations of the state. In addition to the clergy, they may include a judge, the justice of the peace, the mayor, or a county clerk.

Setting Accommodations and Decorations for the Wedding Space

If the marriage ceremony will be held in a relatively open space and there is no physical structure, a focal point for the service must be created. A gazebo can be constructed, as well as a platform with columns to hold candles. At a unique ceremony site, seating for all guests is a basic requirement, along with sturdy footing for the guests to take their places, rest room facilities and parking. In the case of an outdoor wedding, a tent or alternative site should be prepared in the event that inclement weather sets in. There should be enough reserved parking spaces in front of the church or synagogue for all the cars necessary to transport members of the wedding party. Special parking permits may be required.

As part of the decorations of the ceremony site, the bride may opt to designate the front pews reserved for the wedding party and members of the immediate family with decorative ribbons. For a candlelight wedding, fire officials should be consulted to determine the proper number and placement of candles. The wedding coordinator at the church or synagogue can issue guidelines about the size and the number of the floral arrangements used to decorate the ceremony site. Many churches and synagogues have restrictions on the size and placement of floral displays. In addition, the coordinator can confirm where and when the flowers for the ceremony should be delivered by the florist.

Honoring Parents, Both Living and Deceased

Many brides will honor their mother by carrying a special item like a handkerchief or family Bible as they are wed. Other brides will present a flower from their bouquet to their own mother during the processional and one to their new mother-in-law before the recessional. A special notation of reverence for deceased family members can be discreetly included in the wedding program or can be expressed in a special prayer offered by the officiant.

The Recessional

The recessional is led by the newlyweds, who are followed by the child attendants, the honor attendants, and pairs of bridesmaids and groomsmen. After the wedding party has departed from the church, two ushers return to the front of the church or synagogue to lead the dismissal of guests. The bride's parents are the first to leave, followed by the groom's parents, and a filing out of the guests from the front row to the back. If the church or synagogue has two aisles, the processional ascends the left aisle and the recessional descends the right aisle.

Following the ceremony, holding the receiving line at the ceremony site often delays the beginning of the reception, so it may be more convenient for all the parents to join the bride and groom to greet guests immediately after the service.

Processional and Recessional at a Double Wedding

The two grooms take their place on either side of the clergyperson with their respective best man at their side. If the brides are sisters, the oldest usually enters first and takes her place on the left side, preceded by her bridesmaids and honor attendant. The younger sister's attendants enter, and she follows, taking her place on the right side. Each couple completes each portion of the ceremony in turn.

After the final blessing is bestowed over both couples, the older sister and her new husband exit first, followed by the younger sister and her new husband. Alternating between the two wedding parties, the honor attendants recess, followed by pairs of the bridesmaids and groomsmen.

The Order of the Recessional at a Military Wedding

The groom's fellow officers who serve as ushers recess and create their formation either at the back of the church or on the front steps of the church. The head usher commands the unit to draw their swords and each usher raises his saber in his right hand with the cutting edge facing up. As the bride and groom pass through the arch, it is customary for the last swordsman to affectionately tap the bride on her shoulder with his saber. The honor attendants and pairs of bridesmaids and groomsmen also pass through the arch.

Tradition Behind the Bride Being Given Away

Harkening back to the days when a bride was sold by her father to the prospective groom, the rite today is a sign of the father entrusting his beloved daughter to the care of her husband-to-be

The Tradition of the Kiss at the Weddings Conclusion

The kiss symbolizes the first time that these bodies are united as husband and wife and represents the seal of the bargain.

The "Jumping the Broom" Tradition

Traditional African-American brides choose to blend a cultural element into their contemporary marriage ceremony by re-enacting a legacy that dates back to the era of slavery. In the colonial days, slaves were not allowed the privilege of a formal marriage, but those who were spiritual created their own tradition whereby they gathered family and friends to offer thanks and ask for God's blessing. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the couple literally jumped over a broom to symbolize their step into matrimony.

The Tradition Behind the Ringing of the Church Bells

Following the solemn wedding service, the church bells are rung as a joyous way to frighten away demons who might threaten the newlyweds.

Signing and Placement of the Guestbook

Anticipating all the excitement of the big day, the wedding party should be invited to sign the guestbook at the wedding rehearsal. Among several choices for placing the guestbook, the vestibule of the church, synagogue, or another ceremony site may be an ideal location for guests to sign the register upon arrival. The guest register may also be presented at the reception site.

Throwing Rice As a Tradition

Most churches, synagogues, or alternative sites have designated rules governing what can be thrown at the bride and groom while they are leaving the reception for their honeymoon. It is best to check with the clergy or officiant on what the choices may be. Some alternatives to throwing rice or birdseed are flower petals, potpourri, or blowing soap bubbles. However be aware that soap bubbles may stain some dress fabrics. Provisions or a custodial service should be made of rice or bird seed will be thrown after the ceremony.