A wedding ceremony should be personal and meaningful for the marriage couple, while also enjoyable and interesting for the assembled guests. Creating your customized ceremony should not be a chore. I can gather information from you and write a draft, you can write it yourselves, or we can modify and add to an existing ceremony. (See Sample Ceremonies for some ideas). There are many books and websites which provide material.
What is the minimum ceremony for a legal wedding?
I am often asked this question. To be legally married, you don't need the rings, the music, the bridesmaids, you need just 5 things:
1. The Statement - of the proper names of the persons who have come to be married, so we know we have the right people. ("We are gathered here for the wedding of [name] and [name]")
2. The Intention - "Are you, [name] here of your own free will, and do you intend to marry [name]. This is the "I do" that you answer individually, in front of witnesses, either 1 or 1000 of them.
3. The Vow: "I [name] take you [name] to be my lawfully wedded husband/wife". You are speaking to your intended spouse, not to the officiant, and not to the witnesses, as in step 2. You have turned to face each other, and this is your promise to become each other's legal partner. You may say this in your own words, and there are many variants.
4. The Signing: The officiant and the witness/es sign the license and date it (sometimes to the second, in a state where you have a waiting period). The Bride and Groom may sign as well, depending upon the license. They have already signed when they applied for the license.
5. The Proclamation: "In front of these witnesses, this couple has declared their intention to join their lives in marriage.. and we now accept them as husband and wife".
The words can vary, of course - But the purpose of each step is the same - establishing who you are; if you are here of your own free will and it is your intention to be married; your promise to the other person to be their spouse; the legal signing of the license, and the proclamation by the officiant that we have witnessed this legal contract.
Make sure your ceremony has these basic, minimal parts, and that your officiant files the license on time with the state issuing agency.
A Typical Wedding Ceremony
Listed below are the basic sections of a typical ceremony. The order can be changed and certain sections can be eliminated if desired.
Reading 1 -paragraph or two of a meaningful book, song, prayer, etc...
Declaration of Intent
Vows - "Do you take....."
Rings - "With this ring..."
Reading 2, music, etc.
Pronouncement - "By the authority vested in me................................ "
Presentation - "Friends, family, loved ones; it is with great pleasure that I now introduce to you........"
Recessional - Music, bride and groom exit, then wedding party, then parents, then guests
Customizing the Ceremony
Any and all sections of the ceremony can be modified to reflect your philosophy and vision. Most couples concentrate on the "Vows" and "Rings" sections, and selecting appropriate Readings. Here are some suggestions and examples.
This is a greeting to all in attendance and a statement of what will be taking place. I usually write this section, reflecting your ideas.. If there is some anecdote about how you met, your mutual interests, when you decided to marry, etc. I will incorporate it here. If someone is to 'walk you down the aisle' we can acknowledge them here.
"Who brings this bride to be married today? "
Nothing makes a ceremony more personal than a reading that is meaningful to the couple. This can be read by the officiant, or by the Bride or Groom but is most often read by a member of the wedding party. This is a way to include friends in the ceremony. I have seen original poems, passages from the classics (Shakespeare, John Donne) and biblical quotes used most effectively.
Here are a few examples that people enjoy.
1 Corinthians Chapter 13 Verse 4
Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, Love does not boast, Love is not proud. Love does not dishonor others, Love is not self-seeking, Love is not easily angered, Love keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Love always protects, Love always trusts, Love always hopes, Love always perseveres. Love never fails.
Native American Blessing
Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be the shelter for each other. Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be the warmth for the other. Now you are two persons, but there is only one life before. Go now to your dwelling place to enter into the days of your life together. And may your days be good and long upon the earth.
An excerpt from "The Master Speed" by Robert Frost
Two such as you with such a master speed Cannot be parted nor be swept away From one another once you are agreed That life is only life forevermore Together wing to wing and oar to oar.
Declaration of Intent
This is where the meaning of marriage is discussed and a statement that the couple understands what they are getting into. Something like -
"A wedding is more than a celebration of the love which lives in our Bride and Groom's hearts today. It reaches into the future and proclaims their intentions that tomorrow will hold. A couple who wed are joined not only by the mutual affection and love they share, but also by their hopes, dreams and by their promises of what will be. The promises and vows they make this day shall guide them into their common future. I will ask you now if you are prepared to make these promises."
"Speak now or forever..................."
There is no obligation to include this wording in a ceremony and it is usually not included. The burden to affirm that the marriage is legal rests with the office that issues the official marriage license. If the couple presents a valid marriage license, the officiant may conduct the ceremony. However, some couples like to include the traditional language anyway.
"We are gathered here to unite these two people in the bonds of matrimony. If anyone present can show just and legal cause why they may not be joined, let them speak now or forever hold their peace."
You are speaking to your intended spouse, not to the officiant, and not to the witnesses.. You have turned to face each other, and this is your promise to become each other's legal partner. Many couples choose to write their own vows. Are you good at writing but not at speaking in public? The vows can be declared in one of three ways:
I can recite the vow and you respond with "i do" or 'I will"
I can recite each line of the vow and you will repeat each line after me
You can read or recite the vow yourself.
Here are some sample vows
I <bride/groom>, take thee <bride/groom>, to be my <husband/wife/loving companion>. 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 until death do us part.
"I, ______, take you, ______, to be no other than yourself. Loving what I know of you, trusting what I do not yet know, I will respect your integrity and have faith in your abiding love for me, through all our years, and in all that life may bring us."
"______, will you take ______ to be your wife/husband? Do you commit yourself to her/his happiness and self-fulfillment as a person? Do you promise to love, honor, and trust her/him in sickness and in health, in adversity and prosperity, and to be true and loyal to her/him so long as you both shall live?"
"I , [name], choose you [name] to be my [husband/wife], to respect you in your successes and in your failures, to care for you in sickness and in health, to nurture you, and to grow with you throughout the seasons of life.
"Before our friends and those so special to us here, on this wonderful day of gladness and good fortune, I <bride/groom> take you <bride/groom> as my <husband/wife>, in friendship and in love, in strength and weakness, to share the good times and misfortune, in achievement and failure, to celebrate life with you forevermore. "
"Will you;_____________ offer yourself to ______________ as your spouse, Your friend, your lover and your lifelong companion. Will you share your life with his; build your dreams together, support him through times of trouble, And rejoice with him in times of happiness; Will you treat him with respect, love and loyalty through all the trials and triumphs of your lives together. This commitment is made in love, kept in faith, lived in hope, And eternally made new."
It is traditional for a couple to exchange wedding rings after they say their vows. Since these rings are symbols of the marriage, the words said during a ring exchange should reflect the couple's hopes for their marriage. This is another section of the ceremony that many couples choose to customize. Will there be one ring (for the bride) or two (for both bride and groom)?
Here are some examples.
(The traditional ring vow) "With this ring I thee wed, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow."
" _____, I give you this ring to wear upon your hand as a symbol of our unity, love, respect and trust."
"With this ring I take you, _____________, as my (Wife/husband/partner). I offer all that I am in return, and pledge to remember, over every day of our lives together, why we were united here today."
"I give you this ring that has no beginning and no ending, which symbolizes that the love between us will never cease. I place it on your finger as a visible sign of the vows which have made us husband and wife. "
This is a place to have another reading, or music by a member of the wedding party. At a recent ceremony, the sister of the groom played and sang an original composition, written for the wedding.
Just before the pronouncement of marriage is a good time to make any announcements to the assembled guests - about the receiving line, reception, signing the guest book or certificate of marriage, etc.
Other Ideas for the ceremony
Signing the Marriage License during the ceremony
Usually the signing of the Marriage License takes place in private before the ceremony. Signing the license during the ceremony adds a traditional element to the wedding. The Officiant must always sign. In New York and New Jersey, witnesses sign. In New York City, the bride and groom must also sign.
Unity Candle Ceremony
A Unity Candle Ceremony is a lovely way to emphasize the joining together, not only of the bridal couple, but their families as well.
"_______ and _______ have chosen to affirm their marriage by the lighting of a Unity Candle. The flame of the candle represents light, spirit; and fire - and is often said to symbolize inspiration, aspiration, power and passion. By lighting a Unity Candle, they signal their desire to not only join as one in their union, but to unite two families together as one. Will a member of the bride and groom’s families please light a side candle which represents the separate lives, families and experiences before the wedding day? "
(Maid of Honor and Best Man each light a candle).
"A candle has been lit for each of your families.
________ and _______, please use those candles to light the Unity Candle together."
(Bride and Groom take the side candles and use them to light the center ‘Unity’ candle.)
"Prior to this moment you each walked a separate path. With the lighting of the center candle you have now symbolically joined your once separate lives. As two flames combined into one light, so now are your friends and family joined, through you, into one."
Handfasting The ancient Celtic tradition of handfasting is a wonderful way for couples (Irish or not!) to symbolize a commitment and eternal bond during a wedding ceremony. It comes during the "Vows" section of the ceremony. In handfasting, the wrists of the couple are bound together with a ribbon or cord. Each party holds the hands of the other, right hand to right hand, left hand to left, their wrists crossed. The ribbon is wound around the wrists, over the top of one and under and around the other, creating the infinity symbol. It is said that this practice is the origin of the term ‘tying the knot ’.
(Said by the officiant) "Know now before you go further, that since your lives have crossed in this life you have formed ties between each other. As you seek to enter this state of matrimony you should strive to make real, the ideals which give meaning to both this ceremony and the institution of marriage.
With full awareness, know that within this circle you are not only declaring your intent to be handfasted before your friends and family, but you speak that intent also to your creative higher powers.
The promises made today and the ties that are bound here greatly strengthen your union; they will cross the years and lives of each soul´s growth.
Do you still seek to enter this ceremony?
Yes, we seek to enter.
(The officiant ties the cords together while saying) The knots of this binding are not formed by these cords but instead by your vows. Either of you may drop the cords, for as always, you hold in your own hands the making of breaking of this union.
(The couple says their vows. Once vows are made the cords are removed)
Breaking the Glass Traditionally, a glass is broken at the end of a Jewish wedding. At a religious ceremony it is a reminder of the destruction of the temples in Jerusalem. But it also serves to remind us of two very important aspects of a marriage.
The bride and groom - and everyone - should consider these marriage vows as an irrevocable act - just as permanent and final as the breaking of this glass is unchangeable.
It is also a reminder that even in times of great joy, life will bring sadness as well.
The best man places the glass on the floor just before the last part of the ceremony. However, it is not broken at this point. Instead, the officiant continues to declare the bride and groom to be "husband and wife". With "congratulations, you may kiss your bride!" the groom (or bride) then smashes the glass with his/her foot and the couple kiss. Applauding is appropriate in most ceremonies with the breaking of the glass.