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The Celebration of Marriage

Wedding celebrations are important events— they bring people together to recognize the love that brings people together, and remind us of the essential place families have in the community. This information is presented to help plan a thoughtful, heartfelt wedding ceremony.

Planning your wedding together is one of the best ways there can be to learn about your relationship— to explore and talk about the life that you hope to share, and to learn what you will need to do to make that vision of life together wonderful, and possible.

There are many forms that a wedding ceremony can take, from the very orthodox and traditional to the most spontaneous and informal. As you begin thinking about the kind of ceremony that you want, remember that it should reflect the nature of the relationship that it celebrates. If you include readings they should speak for you, and any music that you select should be special to the two of you. Invite the people who are important to you, and honor the very special ones by asking them to be your attendants. Make of your wedding a public declaration of your love for one another, and a joyous celebration of the agreement that you have made to share a home and life together.

The days leading up to the ceremony can be stressful at times. Sudden upsets in your plans may make it seem that you have lost control of the whole situation, and the sense of commitment you have made may seem at times replaced by heavier feelings of obligation instead. And there may even happen those moments of panic, when you suddenly realize how deep and enormous the commitment you are making really is.

The best way to get through these difficult moments is to make sure that your commitment remains first and foremost to one another, and that it is always accompanied by a delicious anticipation of the life that you two are bound to share, when the guests have gone and the marriage truly begins. Support one another with care and gentleness throughout the days leading up to the wedding ceremony, and let nothing make you lose sight of the love that you have for one another, nor compromise the world that you have chosen to create together.

The decision to marry is not simply a desire to change— it is a decision to grow. We truly fall in love only when we have found a person whose life we recognize will deeply enrich our own. And with this decision we choose to cherish and cheer each other on as we grow in the presence of one another, rather begin trying to change one another from who it was we met into something much less real and inspiring.

Weddings celebrate and exercise our free choice. You have chosen one another to be bride and groom; you will now choose what takes place during your ceremony— and who will take part, and how. Other choices you might make will involve such things as the refreshments, the flowers, the photographers and the musicians, as well as the location, time and place— and of course, the guests.

The choices of who will become members of the wedding party— the bridesmaids and the ushers, the ring-bearer and the flower girl, and especially the officiant, the best man, and the maid of honor— are all very important, for these people will become your guides, your servants, your bodyguards and your confidants, right on through the wedding day. For them it is an honor to be chosen; but for you their companionship will be essential, especially as the wedding day draws close. Choose them early, and involve them as often as you can.

The choices that you make should be made together, and need be talked about at length, with careful attention paid to what you are learning about yourselves and one another in the process. And your discussion should focus not only upon what you choose, but also (with great respect and care) why you have chosen your choices as well.

And the most important thing of all to remember as you plan your wedding is that, throughout your years together, you will be celebrating anniversaries of this day. Never lose sight of one another, despite the inevitable confusion and stress during the weeks that lie ahead; and never let go of the vision that has brought the two of you together— for that, after all, is what your wedding day will celebrate.

What will take place during your wedding ceremony? Because the ceremony will reflect the marriage that you want to have, it is you that must decide. The only requirement is that the officiant hears each of you agree to marry the other, and then pronounces you “husband and wife”. However, tradition has provided many other events that can be built into your ceremony.

First of course there is the processional, which can be a series of formal entrances or an informally spontaneous gathering together. Then there is the greeting, in which the officiant welcomes the gathered guests and announces the start of the ceremony, and the invocation, which is a prayer of some sort that is intended to set the tone of the occasion. Music is usually a part of what happens, including perhaps favorite or traditional songs or instrumental music, and they may be either live or prerecorded. Favorite poems or other readings are often prepared, and certain special guests may be invited to speak— briefly.

The officiant often presents a homily, a commentary about marriage in general and perhaps your wedding in particular, after which there is a ring exchange as a token of the bond that is being established between husband and wife. Personal statements may be made by the bride and groom to one another in addition to the vows, which are of course central to the ceremony. The vows themselves may be recited, repeated phrase by phrase after prompting by the officiant, or simply assented to with an “I do” or “I will”.

Finally there is the pronouncement, which states something like: “with the authority vested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife”, usually followed by a benediction to invoke a spiritual blessing upon the marriage, and a recessional which— like the processional— may be as formal or informal as desired.

In addition to these elements, certain traditional rituals have evolved over the centuries which may be included if you choose, employing such items as water, wine, candles, a canopy, or perhaps other symbols of personal or cultural significance. Having the bride carry “something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue” has become a traditional observation for instance, as has including such family heirlooms as a family Bible, a chalice, or a special garment or jewelry. The important thing to remember is that each element of the ceremony must have special meaning for the two of you, in order to enhance the celebration of your marriage.

There are many books that give examples of ceremonies, and of course there’s lots of information on the internet. Explore all the possibilities before you together, as I trust you will do for the remainder of your married life.

Jim has performed many wedding ceremonies over the past forty years and, although he only officiates at a very few each year, they are among his most significant and satisfying activities. Over the years he has developed a manual for writing a wedding ceremony, which is available in PDF format here.