The Wedding Ceremony
Civil and Military
The Wedding Party
The first question you must ask yourself is whether you want a religious or a secular wedding. If you opt for a religious ceremony and you do not belong to a house of worship, give yourself plenty of time to find the right place and the right officiant. Some congregations won't allow a guest officiant to perform a wedding, or won't marry people who are not members. Also, make sure you give yourself time to fulfill any premarital requirements of your house of worship. Some churches and temples require a program of premarital counseling or preparation which can last from weeks to months before you can take your nuptials.
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Here are some aspects of a few religious ceremonies:
In Catholicism, marriage is one of the seven holy sacraments. The Catholic ceremony begins with the priest greeting the couple and the guests and saying an opening prayer. The Liturgy of the Word is then read by a person of your choosing, explaining the importance of marriage, followed by a homily about marriage delivered by the priest. The priest then asks the couple to declare their consent to marry. Finally, there is the blessing and exchange of the rings, as well as vows. A Catholic marriage is not valid unless it is performed by a priest in the presence of two witnesses. Some Catholic weddings include Holy Communion.
"Protestant" suggests a number of denominations, but there are certain aspects of a wedding that you can expect at any Protestant ceremony.
After the wedding party walks up the aisle, a Prayer of Blessing is said, and passages are read from Scriptures. The parents give their affirmation through the Giving in Marriage. Vows and rings are exchanged. The celebration of the Lord's Supper takes place, the unity candle is lit, and the Benediction is given. The Recessional then takes place.
Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform weddings have their specific rituals, but here are some aspects of the Jewish wedding which remain constant:
The marriage ceremony occurs under a chuppah, an ornamented canopy (optional in a Reform ceremony). The ketubah, or wedding contract, is presented and signed by the groom and witnesses. The ketubah delineates the groom's responsibilities to his wife. The seven Blessings are recited. The bride and groom drink blessed wine; the groom then smashes a glass - wrapped in a napkin - by stomping on it with his foot. The guests celebrate by yelling "Mazel tov!" ("Good luck") to the couple.
More and more interfaith weddings take place these days. An interfaith marriage can be a beautiful celebration of diversity and unity. Some religions allow officiants from other faiths to perform ceremonies in their houses of worship. Many people have two ceremonies of different faiths back to back. Consult with your house of worship to see what their policies and requirements are. For example, the Catholic Church will marry a Catholic and a non-Catholic. The non-Catholic does not need to convert in order to marry a Catholic. A Catholic and a Protestant can marry in the church with one officiant from each denomination performing the ceremony. Non-Christian clergy are not allowed to perform ceremonies in the Catholic Church, however.
Civil and Military
If you are not strongly affiliated with a religion, you can have a judge, justice of the peace, notary public, or some other civil official marry you (check with your county's marriage-license bureau or municipal clerk's office to find out who can legally marry you in your county).
You can do this ceremony in the officiant's office in City Hall. Usually these ceremonies are shorter and smaller. Often they dispense with the rituals and trimmings of a religious ceremony (you could wear a floor-length dress, instead of a wedding gown). Or you can find a location like a country club and have a full-scale ceremony in one part of the club (perhaps in a garden), then move to the ballroom for the reception. Couples also hold civil ceremonies in a hotel or private home.
Military ceremonies can be held only if either the bride or groom is an active or retired member of the military. You can't use the chapel of an army base just because one of your parents is in the service. If the groom is a member of the military, he will wear his military dress. If the bride is in the service, she can opt for a wedding gown or her military dress. Other members of the wedding party who are in the military can also wear their military dress. The groom may or may not wear a sword. If he does, the bride stands to his right; if he does not, she stands to his left.
Seating at a military wedding poses an extra challenge. Any high-ranking officials must be seated in places of honor. The rest of the guests are seated according to rank. The end of a military ceremony offers a special treat; the bride and groom walk through an arch created by soldiers holding their swords high.
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Some people feel that if it is not their first marriage, they must have a small, subdued wedding. This is not true. You should celebrate your new life together just as first-timers would, especially if one of you has never been married before. If the bride has been married before, she may want to consider wearing off-white and no veil. As far as gifts are concerned, most people who are re-marrying are more established than first-timers, and you could consider putting a "No gifts, please" clause in the invitation. If it's the first time for either of you, however, or if you would appreciate some help starting your new life together, gifts are appropriate.
If you are having a religious ceremony for a second marriage, consult with the officiant to make sure you fulfill any special requirements.
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If your relative or good friend is planning on marrying around the same time you are, a double ceremony can be fun. It can also be double the headaches. Don't jump into a double wedding lightly. If it seems like too much trouble, it probably is.
The entire site is lit by candles, creating a beautiful atmosphere. Sometimes each guest is given a candle and the couple start the ceremony by walking down the aisle together and stopping at each row to light the candle of the person seated on the aisle, who then lights the next person's candle, and so on, until every guest's candle is lit. This creates a wonderful sense of unity in the hall.
Many couples will write their own vows, thus ensuring that there is a space in the ceremony for their feelings for their partner. You can write your own vows and still retain the traditional readings and rituals of your faith in the ceremony.
People will sometimes have special guests of honor stand at the altar during the ceremony. Another thing you can do is present the two mothers with roses. Some couples arrange the altar so that they will be facing the guests during the ceremony.
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The Wedding Party
Who to Include
It is a very special thing to be asked to be in a wedding party; it also carries with it a lot of responsibility and often considerable financial cost, so choose prudently. Think of the people you ask to be in the party and ask yourself if they are all people you believe will be important in your life for years to come. Anyone who you see in this light will be honored to be in your party and should treat his or her responsibilities accordingly.
Consider the size of your party. Where is the wedding going to take place? Is the altar big enough to fit the number of people you want involved in the ceremony? The size of your wedding party should be a consideration when picking a place for the ceremony.
Also, you don't have to have the same number of bridesmaids as groomsmen. The bride and groom should each make a list of who they want in their party. Hopefully the list will have the same number of bridesmaids as groomsmen. If the number is not even, you can assign other jobs to some of them, such as usher. The hope is to have one groomsman walk each bridesmaid down the aisle and dance with her at the appropriate time during the reception; but if you have a couple of extra ushers, they can walk down the aisle together. The rule of thumb is one usher to every fifty guests, but you can certainly bend the rule if you want.
Make sure you ask your party to stand with you at least six months before the wedding. This is a very important and expensive decision for them to make (all wedding party members are expected to pay for their own wedding attire), and some of them will not be able to do it. Give yourself ample time to ask alternates.
The traditional roles of the wedding party include:
Maid or Matron of Honor
This person has more responsibilities than any other in the wedding party. The Maid of Honor:
- Helps the bride with invitations
- Keeps a record of bridal shower and wedding gifts
- Helps with shopping and other pre-wedding arrangements
- Arranges a bridal shower (with the bridesmaids)
- Helps the bride get dressed for the wedding (with the bridesmaids)
- Arranges the bride's train and veil at the altar
- Gives the bride the groom's ring at the appropriate time in the ceremony
- Holds the bride's bouquet while the bride exchanges rings with the groom
- Signs the wedding certificate with the best man as a witness
- Stands in the receiving line (optional)
- Helps the bride change clothes after the reception
- Takes charge of the bridal gown after the wedding
- Assists the bride in any additional planning
Other than making sure the groom overcomes cold feet, the Best Man:
- Organizes the bachelor party (which is optional)
- Drives the groom to the ceremony
- Gives the groom the bride's ring during the ceremony
- Gives the payment check to the officiant either just before or just after the ceremony (the groom's family traditionally pays for this)
- Gives the payment check to the other service providers like chauffeurs and reception coordinators (if the families wish him to do so)
- Returns the groom's attire if rented
- Keep a gift record at the shower (usually one bridesmaid only)
- Help the maid of honor organize the shower
- Assist the bride and maid of honor with any pre-wedding shopping or arranging they ask for
- Help the bride dress for the ceremony
- Arrive early to the hall in order to help set up the room, especially with last minute little touches such as candles and ribbons
- Escort guests to their seats
- Meet and welcome guests of honor (such as grandparents) and escort them to their seats
- Help straighten up after the ceremony
- Make sure all the wedding gifts are put in a secure place after the reception
- Help decorate the newlyweds' car
Mother of the bride
- Helps the bride choose her gown and accessories, and helps assemble the bridal trousseau
- Helps the bride select the bridesmaids' attire
- Coordinates her own attire with the mother of the groom
- Works with the bride and the groom's family to coordinate a guest list and seating plan
- Helps address and mail invitations
- Helps the attendants coordinate the bridal shower
- Stands at the front of the receiving line (optional)
- May act as hostess of the reception
- Occupies a seat of honor at the parents' table
If you're looking for wedding party roles for the special kids in your life, here are the traditional positions filled by children:
Girls younger than eight are usually trainbearers or flower girls. Girls older than eight can be junior bridesmaids. They get to stand with the wedding party, but have none of the responsibilities of the other bridesmaids, and may wear a different dress. Young boys can be ringbearers or pages. The flower girl is the last person down the aisle before the bride. She carries a basket of fresh petals and sprinkles them on the ground for the bride to walk on. The ringbearer walks down the aisle before the flower girl. He carries a satin pillow with two fake wedding rings sewn into it. The maid of honor and best man have the real rings. The pages/trainbearers walk behind the bride and carry the train of her wedding dress. You can have pages even if your train is not that long, if there are kids you want to be in the ceremony. Pages can be boys or girls. Usually there are two of them together.
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