A marriage ceremony used to be purely religious but contemporary, more secular ceremonies have become very popular over the last century. No matter which type of marriage ceremony you choose, the processional is the first glance the wedding guests get at the wedding party. You only get one shot at first impressions, so consider all options you have available.
A Catholic wedding processional begins with the priest followed by the groom and best man that enter through a side door. They wait at the altar for the groomsmen and bridesmaids that enter in pairs. The two that stand furthest from the groom and bride are the first to enter. The maid of honor enters alone, followed by the flower girl and ring bearer. Finally, the father (or other close family member) and the bride enter, arm in arm. The bride walks on the left and the father or escort leads her to the front of the aisles, taking his place next to the mother of the bride.
A Protestant wedding is similar with a few twists. The mothers of both the bride and the groom are seated after all other guests have taken their seats, usually escorted by a male family member, friend of the groom or other usher. The processional music starts right after the mothers have been seated. The officiator, groom and best man usually enter by a side door or entry and take their places at the altar. The groomsmen either escort the bridesmaids or follow the groom and best man through the side door. The bridesmaids, ring bearer, flower girl and maid or matron of honor then enter. The bride, escorted by her father or other close male relative, makes her way to the altar. The escort stays standing until the minister asks “who gives this woman in marriage” and he answers.
For Jewish marriage ceremonies, the processional is different still. The Rabbi and/or Cantor enter, followed by the grandparents of the bride, escorted by a male family member. The grandparents of the groom are escorted to the front row as well. The groomsmen then enter, walking in pairs. The best man is next to enter, followed by the groom, escorted by his parents. The bridesmaids enter, followed by the maid or matron of honor. Next come the ring bearer and/or flower girl and finally, the bride, escorted by her mother and father.
Informal weddings or those with a small wedding party may opt to choose a single file processional or none at all. A non-traditional ceremony may include a dog as the ring bearer, a cat as the flower girl and their masters (bride and groom) taking their places before them at the altar.
Marriage ceremonies, after the processional is complete, often start with a welcoming preamble by the officiator. An opening prayer of some sort, essentially a blessing or invocation to the day and the ceremony, usually follows the preamble. The guests are welcomed if they weren’t in the preamble. The vows are next, which may be lengthy or short. This is usually when the bride and groom promise to commit to one another. The rings or gifts are exchanged next.
If the bride and groom have elected to have a unity ceremony, they often take place after the rings or gifts have been elected. One popular unity ceremony asks that the man and woman light a single candle with separate flames. Jewish marriage ceremonies call for breaking a glass by the man and woman in unison.
After any unity ceremony has been completed, the couple is usually pronounced as husband and wife and they enjoy their first kiss as a married couple. Most marriage ceremonies are then followed by a recessional and reception to celebrate the marriage.