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Wedding Ceremony Protocol

Please keep in mind that these rules are not hard and fast. There are many variations that are correct and appropriate.

Ceremony Seating

It is no longer customary to seat all of the bride’s family and friends on one side of the aisle and the groom’s family and friends on the other. However, it is normal to put the VIP guests (closest family and friends) in the following configuration as you face the altar:

Bride’s family and close friends are seated on the left in the first few rows
Groom’s family and close friends are seated on the right in the first few rows.

The mothers of the bride and groom both sit on the seats next to the aisle
(positioning them closest to their children)

The parents of the flower girls and ring bearer should be in one of the first two rows to receive the children once the ceremony begins


Bridal Party Configuration

The bridal party is configured as follows (as you face the altar):

Bridesmaids & maid-of-honor are positioned to the left of the officiant with bridesmaids on the far left, maid-of-honor closest to the officiant (and bride)

Groomsmen & best man are positioned to the right of the officiant with groomsmen to the far right, best man closest to the officiant (and groom)

Opposite configuration may be observed for Jewish weddings

Bride walks down the aisle on her father’s right arm

Father passes the bride to the groom and then sits on the left (as you face the altar), just to the left of the bride’s mother If the bridesmaids/groomsmen and the maid-of-honor/best man go down the aisle in pairs (vs. men waiting at altar and women-only down the aisle), the women should process on the men’s left arms


Pre-Ceremony Etiquette

Groomsmen, best man, groom, officiant and ushers may all receive and socialize with guests as they arrive at the ceremony site. The men in the bridal party should retire to the rectory (if a church wedding) or off to the side or back of ceremony area just prior to the Seating of the Special Guests.

Wedding Processional

Variation 1

1. Seating of the Special Guests (in this order):

•Special Guests of Groom (close family/friends)
•Special Guests of Bride (close family/friends)
•Grandparents of Groom, including step-grandparents
•Grandparents of Bride, including step-grandparents
•Groom’s Mother Bride’s Mother

Special guests that are couples should go in pairs (women on men’s left arm)

You will need to assign an usher/groomsman/brother/uncle/friend to escort all other women

Choose a special melody for this portion of the processional

2. Men Move to the Altar Area:

At a church… If the rectory door is on the right (as you look at the altar), the order will be:

•Best Man

If the rectory door is on the left (as you look at the altar), the order will be:

•Best Man

At an outdoor setting…

Men go up to the front, moving up by going around the right of the guest seating (not down the aisle) in this order:

•Best Man

The men process to the same melody used for the special seating (no break in the music, move to the front should be subtle)

Once the men are in place, the musicians will cadence, then will immediately start the next music selection, for the bridal party.

3. Bridal Party Processional
Have a special melody selected for this portion of the processional

•Flower Girls
•Ring Bearer

Bridesmaids and maid-of-honor line up from left to center

Flower girls and ring bearer will stand just in front of female members of the bridal party

Once the bridal party is in place, the musicians will then cadence.
The officiant will then instruct the guests to “please rise.”

The musicians will then immediately start the special music for the bride.

The bride will wait to process until the processional melody is in full swing.

4. Bride’s Entrance: Choose a special melody for this portion of the processional

Bride and father (or other important male figure): Bride goes down the aisle on her father’s right arm

Some brides prefer to be escorted by:

•Both parents
•Son / sons
•Close friend
•No escort

If the bride has a veil, her father will lift the veil and kiss her on the cheek before being seated (best to practice this at the rehearsal)

Even if there is no veil, the father will kiss the bride on the cheek before being seated

After the bride reaches the altar and the officiant makes his opening words, the bride will pass her bouquet on to her maid-of-honor via the minister

Flower girls and ring bearer then sit with their parents in the front row

Variation 2

Almost all parts of the processional remain the same. Changes are bolded:

1. Seating of the Special Guests, as above

2. Only the Officiant and Groom head to altar (from rectory or back of guest seating)

3. Bridal Party Processional

•Bridesmaids and Groomsmen, in pairs
•Maid-of-Honor and Best Man
•Flower Girls
•Ring Bearer

Women will be on men’s left arms

Once couples reach altar, women will go to left, men will go to right (as you face altar)

4. Bride’s Entrance, as above : After the bride reaches the altar and the officiant makes his opening words, the bride will pass her bouquet on to her maid-of-honor via the minister

5. After the processional, the officiant will direct all remaining aspects of the ceremony

If a full Catholic wedding mass, the bridal party will be seated in the front row of the church

In the Catholic mass, two of the groomsmen will bring two chairs to the front of the altar area for the bride and groom

There are other variations to the couple’s position during the full mass (these details will be coordinated by your priest)


Wedding Recessional

Just prior to the minister’s final words and after the officiant says “you may now kiss the bride,” the maid-of-honor moves forward to give the bride her bouquet (this should be orchestrated with the officiant at the rehearsal)

Officiant will then position the couple to face the guests

Ceremony typically ends with a variation of the officiant saying: “I am now pleased to introduce for the first time Mr. and Mrs. Smith”

The musicians then immediately respond with a lively recessional tune

The bride and groom join arms and recess to the back of the church

In Jewish weddings, the ceremony ends with the breaking of the glass and an immediate transition to a lively recessional tune (example: “Mazel Tov”)

Once the bride and groom have reached the back of the church or ceremony area, the bridal party will recess in pairs in this order:

•Maid-of-Honor / Best Man
•Bridesmaids / Groomsmen

Flowergirls and ringbearers should remain with parents

Your officiant will then direct the guests’ recessing row-by-row. In intimate weddings, this does not need to be done

Couple and bridal party will then form a receiving line (back of church, in front of church, back of outdoor ceremony area, etc.) or… the couple and bridal party immediately head off to do picture-taking and their families will form the receiving line post-ceremony


Post-Ceremony Traditions

Couple and bridal party receive guests prior to heading off to reception. Families of couple receive guests prior to the reception beginning

A favorite wine country tradition is to immediately receive guests by trays of champagne (or wine) and a more informal mingling of bridal party and/or family (non-church settings only)

Other Important Ceremony Elements

All other full Catholic mass details will be determined and directed by your priest (communion, Mary altar, presentation of gifts, etc.)

Unity candle ceremonies are not recommended for outdoor weddings

Jewish weddings may also involve a Ketubbah signing prior to the ceremony
This is typically done in a special room and attended only by signers, immediate family and your rabbi

Positioning of wedding party under the Chuppah during Jewish weddings should be determined by your rabbi during your rehearsal (there are a number of variations)


Important Etiquette Issues

If the bride and room are not receiving their guests post-ceremony, they should plan to either: Receive guests as they enter the reception dining room or Briefly visit each guest table during the first course at dinner (providing an opportunity for pictures with each group of guests)

Be sure that important family and friends know of their special seating and ceremony responsibilities well in advance of your rehearsal

If you have special family circumstances that may cause tension, especially as regards ceremony seating, you should consult your wedding coordinator for assistance and guidance on proper etiquette

Standard aisle runners are not recommended for outdoor weddings as they get twisted if there is wind and they pose a serious tripping hazard if on grass or an uneven surface. If you use an aisle runner in a church setting, it is best to have the ushers lay the aisle runner after the Seating of the Special Guests and before the Bridal Party Processional. Good substitutes for standard aisle runners in an outdoor setting: flower petals or flower heads, bamboo runner, seagrass woven runner, weighted canvas runner (would be custom made), etc.

Photos courtesy of Andrew Van Gundy, Brett Butterstein, Richard Wood and TJ Salsman.

For more information on our wedding services, please contact Christina Andrews at or (707) 225-1862

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