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The Official Wedding Ceremony Order and Outline

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Layne is an active freelance writer. She enjoys staying up to date on trends, media, and emerging topics.

10-Step Wedding Ceremony Order and Outline

10-Step Wedding Ceremony Order and Outline

An Easy Guide to Planning a Wedding Ceremony

I was recently ordained and officiated my sibling's wedding. During this, I learned about the official steps in a traditional marriage ceremony, what takes place and when, and how to successfully make sure the event is legal and official. Here, I will walk you through the components of a marriage ceremony—the rest is up to you and the couple on how to proceed.

Please note that certain specifics vary state-by-state. In addition, there will be differences in the way a ceremony is carried out based on cultural, religious, and societal preferences, so this is a general outline of the basics. These are the laws that are set forth in the state of California in the United States. It is up to you to do further research, however, most states abide by similar policies. Happy celebrations.

Steps for a traditional wedding ceremony.

Steps for a traditional wedding ceremony.

What to Do Before the Wedding

There are a few things that must happen before the wedding besides the obvious. We will go beyond the basics in this guide. Obviously, the bride and groom will be responsible for planning the logistics: date, location, attire, number of guests, photographer, vows, rings, celebrations, and then some.

Important: Get a Marriage License

A wedding is not legally recognized without the actual marriage license. In fact, the marriage license must be reviewed by your officiant before solemnizing the marriage. If the marriage license is not viewed in advance, this is considered a misdemeanor (California Penal Code, Section 360). To apply for your marriage license, you need to go to your County Clerk's office and/or set up an appointment in advance. You will need identification (generally a driver's license or sometimes more). Both individuals must be present for this. You must pay the license fee.

Important: The marriage license is a legal contract and must be present on the wedding day.

Secure an Officiant

An officiant can be anyone 18 years of age or older in the state of California. While you can secure an officiant who is of a particular denomination (minister, priest, rabbi), the individual can also be an interfaith individual.

Officiants are responsible for returning the license within 10 business days of the date of marriage. In addition, the officiant's documents must have their full legal name and current address. Your officiant may be of a particular faith or church or they may belong to a non-denominational religious society.


Before the ceremony takes place, the bride and groom and wedding officiant must visually look at the to-be-completed marriage license together in order for the ceremony to be legal. The ceremony cannot take place before this step.

Wedding Processional Order

1. Wedding Processional

The processional is the very first step of the wedding ceremony. However, each ceremony is unique to the couple and can be shaped or reordered accordingly.

What is the wedding order and who walks out first in a wedding?

  • Officiant: The officiant walks out first and signifies that the ceremony is about to start. All guests should be seated.

[Music starts]

  • Groomsmen: In a traditional ceremony, the groom walks first, followed by the best man and groomsmen.
  • Seating of the Parents: Seating of parents (including grandparents) of bride and groom. Groom's family walks up first. Paternal family members walk first, then maternal; same for the bride. Some grooms may choose to walk at this time with their parents. The mother of the bride comes last.

[Change of music]

  • Bridesmaids: The bridesmaids and maid of honor then walk down the aisle. *If walking in pairs with the groomsmen, the groomsmen stand on the right and the bridesmaids on the left.
  • Ring Bearer: The ring bearer proceeds down the aisle
  • Flower Girls: The flower girls proceed down the aisle.

[Change of music]

  • Bride: The officiant asks the guests to "please rise" right before the bride walks down the aisle. In a traditional setting, a father will walk their daughter down the aisle. Previously, a groomsman can walk the mother of the bride down the aisle (or her son or husband can do this again). The bride walks to the altar.

How many songs are needed for a wedding ceremony?

You may choose to have three or four songs for your wedding. The prelude, recessional, and processional can each have a unique song; the bride may have a unique song of their own during their entrance. In addition, some people choose to have a unique song for each member or walk within the wedding party (e.g. groom/groomsmen, bridesmaids, flower girls, ring bearer, and bride.)

2. The Welcome

The officiant will ask the wedding guests to "please be seated" once the bride is standing at the altar and settled. At this time, the officiant will welcome the guests and announce the purpose of the day—the celebration of the bride and groom and their union and intention to marry. Oftentimes, the officiant will thank family and friends for showing up for this special day.

3. Introduction: Reading/Prayer

At this time, the officiant or an attendee may read a poem, passage, prayer, story, or something that is special to the bride and groom or expresses something special about marriage. In addition, some choose to have a musical performance of significance by a family member, friend, or a professional musician in dedication to their special day.

In most cases, anything shared during the opening of the wedding will often be in-theme of the meaning of love, the couple's unique love story, and what marriage means in whole.

The bride and groom may want to honor certain traditions.

The bride and groom may want to honor certain traditions.

4. Intention and Declaration

At this time, the officiant will reiterate the legality of marriage and verify the intention of the couple to proceed. This type of language can be woven in in a strategic manner. For example, the officiant might express the obligations of marriage and ask the bride and groom, in front of the party and as witness, if it is their intention to be married and to proceed with the day. Both bride and groom can answer in affirmation. They may traditionally respond with, "I do," or in unison, "We do." After this confirmation, the wedding will proceed to the exchange of vows and rings.

The exchange of vows is an intimate time for the bride and groom.

The exchange of vows is an intimate time for the bride and groom.

5. Exchange of Vows

At this time, the officiant will lead the couple in the exchange of vows. It is absolutely appropriate for couples to read their vows to one another. Some couples choose to read their vows together or in unison (haven't written them together).

The officiant will guide the couples to face each other or step closer. The couple may also choose to join hands. Generally, the groom will read their vows first, followed by the bride. Some couples also choose to do an exchange of vows in private.

6. Exchange of Rings

At this time, the officiant or another attendee will invite the ring bearer up with the rings and help the couple to each take their respective rings. The groom will go first. The officiant will guide the groom through a formal exchange of vows and rings. Here are some examples of what might take place:

Groom: Is asked to repeat after the officiant (i.e. "Please repeat after me.")

"I, [spouse 1 name], take you, [spouse 2 name], to be my partner in marriage, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, for as long as we both shall live."

Bride: Is asked to repeat after the officiant (i.e. "Please repeat after me."); see above.

Groom: Takes bride's ring and repeats after the officiant:

"I give you this ring as a token and pledge of [our constant faith and] abiding love."

Groom places ring on bride's ring finger.

Bride: Takes groom's ring and repeats after the officiant:

"I give you this ring as a token and pledge of [our constant faith and] abiding love."

Bride places ring on groom's ring finger.

Note: It is important that as the officiant you parse out the wordage in an easy manner for the bride and groom in the "repeat after me" step. You can read the words naturally and pause where one would naturally take a break/breath. For example, you might say:

I [PAUSE], [SPOUSE 1 NAME] [PAUSE], take you [PAUSE], [SPOUSE 2 NAME] [PAUSE], to be my partner in marriage [PAUSE], to have and to hold [PAUSE] from this day forward [PAUSE] . . .

The pronouncement and the kiss is a time for celebration.

The pronouncement and the kiss is a time for celebration.

7. Pronouncement and the Kiss

At this time, the officiant can now pronounce the marriage. The officiant will use official language such as:

"In the power vested in me by the [State of California], I now pronounce you husband and wife."


"By the virtue of the authority vested in me . . . you may now kiss each other to seal your vows."

Here, the officiant may follow up with "You may now kiss the bride." When the couple kisses, the officiant may choose to step aside so that the photographer can capture a great photo of the couple kissing at the altar.

8. The Recessional

The married couple is introduced and exits down the aisle. The best man and maid of honor follow, as well as other members of the bridal group. This is typically done in the opposite order by which they appeared.

10 Tips for First-Time Officiants

9. Important: Sign the Marriage License

One of the most important post-ceremony aspects of the day is to have the officiant and witnesses sign the marriage license. The marriage will not be valid unless the document is signed. The marriage license must be signed by the bride and groom, officiant, and the witness(es), generally two. Thereafter, at least in the state of California, the license must be returned within 10 days to the issuing authority.

Witnesses are required to put their legal name, address, and to sign the license. The officiant is required to fill out the following:

  • Date of Marriage
  • City/Town of Marriage
  • County of Marriage
  • Signature of Person Solemnizing the Marriage
  • Religious Denomination
  • Name of Person Solemnizing the Marriage (Printed)
  • Official Title
  • Address, City, State, Country, Zip Code
Most wedding ceremonies take the same format but will vary based on traditions, culture, religion, and preferences.

Most wedding ceremonies take the same format but will vary based on traditions, culture, religion, and preferences.

10. Celebrate

Most importantly, enjoy your celebrations and congratulations. The post-wedding ceremony party is a time for family, friends, and the bride and groom to enjoy all of the hard work and build-up to this special day. The party can carry over traditional aspects or be totally unique to the couple. Love is love, after all, so each ceremony will be different—traditional or non-traditional. Everyone deserves the right to have their love legally recognized and be happy and to love who they love, period.

What Is the Order of the Wedding Ceremony?

It is important to mention that the above ceremony is a traditional non-denominational ceremony. However, Jewish ceremonies will have similar features but additions like vows under the chuppah, a circling, the seven blessings, and the breaking of the glass, to name a few traditions.

In a Hindu wedding, there will be the baraat (the groom arrives escorted), the milni (greeting by the parents of the bride), the kanyadaan (giving away of the daughter), the garland exchange, the agni poojan or sacred fire, the saptapadi (the symbolic tying together of the bride and groom on the principles of friendship), the talambralu (or blessing), and the ashirwad (showering with blessings).

In a Catholic wedding, the official steps are also varied. In addition to the above-mentioned, there well be the entrance rites (in the form of a mass), the gospel, homily (priest's interpretation of the gospel), offertory (offering of gifts), liturgy of the eucharist (guests kneel and bow as part of the mass), the Lord's prayer, sign of peace, holy communion, and the nuptial blessing.

Remember Why You're There

Each wedding ceremony is unique and special in its own way. So long as you have a signed marriage license and both bride and groom are consenting, go with the flow. No marriage ceremony is perfect—but the celebration of love on that day is.


  • First Nation Ministery

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2022 Laynie H