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Wedding Ceremony Structure

Stumped when it comes to your wedding ceremony structure? Here’s how a traditional ceremony plays out.

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So you’re ready to start planning your wedding ceremony structure? Congratulations! While each ceremony will have its own unique flavour, there are a few basic parts that tend to remain the same. From the processional to the recessional - and everything in between - here are the elements you won’t want to forget. Remember, you can always add and omit some parts as you see fit - it’s your wedding, so you make the final call.

This is the basic wedding ceremony structure.


Every ceremony kicks off with a processional. This is the grand entrance of all the key players in the wedding. Each will take their turn walking down the aisle and taking their spot in the audience or at the altar. While it all depends who you’ve included in your wedding party and who will accompany the bride, here’s the traditional order:

  • The bride’s mother
  • The groomsmen (if they’re not going down the aisle with the bridesmaids)
  • The best man
  • The groom
  • The officiant
  • The bridesmaids (and possibly groomsmen)
  • The maid of honour
  • The flower girl(s) and ring bearer(s)
  • The father of the bride and the bride

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Opening remarks

Once everyone is in their rightful place, the officiant will begin the show. He or she will kick it off with a phrase you’ve probably heard once or twice in your life: “dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to join X and X in matrimony…”. Depending on whether your service is secular or religious, your officiant’s opening remarks may change slightly. You’ll want to review their speech with them before your ceremony so that there are no unwanted surprises on your big day.

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Charge to the couple

After the officiant has introduced the ceremony, he or she will say a charge to the bride and groom. This is a reminder of the meaningfulness of the vows they are about to exchange and the journey they are about to embark upon together. Once again, this may have a religious twist depending on the type of ceremony taking place.

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Exchanging of vows

Once the officiant has finished it’s time for the couple to get involved by saying their wedding vows. Whether you go with pre-written vows or something from the heart is your call. Remember that this is the time in the wedding ceremony structure to express your love and make some promises to your future spouse. If you need some tips on penning your vows, we’ve got your back.

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Exchanging of rings

Now it’s time to upgrade your engagement ring with a slightly less flashy new model. The officiant will begin this phase of the ceremony by asking one party to place a ring on the other’s finger (and then vice versa). The couple usually accompanies the exchanging of their brand new wedding bands with the phrase, “with this ring, I thee wed”.

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Unifying Ritual

An optional element in the wedding ceremony structure is the inclusion of a unifying ritual such as a candle lighting, wine box, tree planting or sand ceremony as a symbol of the unification of the couple into a new entity. Keep in mind that there are no real rules as to who should be involved in the ceremony. Some couples choose to include their officiant or celebrant, while others choose to bring in their children or parents to show the bonding of the two families.

Declaration of marriage

Congratulations! You’re almost officially hitched. At this point, the officiant will state something along the lines of “by the power vested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife” and the deal is sealed.

First kiss

Your officiant will then say “you may now kiss one another”. This is your cue to celebrate your nuptials with a smooch. This is your first kiss as husband and wife so be as dramatic as you want (just remember that your family is watching). This is one of the money shots for your wedding album, so make sure your photographer gets it!

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The signing

Next is the paperwork portion of the wedding ceremony structure: the signing of the marriage license. Though you’re probably busy soaring off on cloud nine, you’ll need to get that document signed to make your union legal. The ceremony will briefly break so that you, your two witnesses and your officiant can sign the papers. Then it’s time to wrap up your ceremony and move onto the reception to party!

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Closing remarks

Think of these as the credits to your wedding. The officiant will close out the ceremony with a few words and congratulations to the happily married couple.


Now it’s time to head out to the party (AKA your reception). The happy couple followed by the wedding party will make their way back down the aisle before the guests start exiting the ceremony venue starting with the front row. This usually involves an upbeat dance track and possibly the throwing of confetti.

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Images: Kristin & Adrian's wedding at Belcroft Estates & Event Centre, Gilford, Ontario; photography by F29 Studio.

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