Even if you’re not getting married in a church or synagogue, you may want to follow the order of service from your religion of origin. Or you may simply want to see what some ceremonies include when creating your own.
I have not changed any texts here from the way they are used in these various traditions, for in many cases these traditions do not yet accommodate same-sex marriages. They will no doubt make the relevant changes when they do. For my purposes, I thought mostly to provide these as examples of forms that you may wish to adapt to your own wedding. In all of these, you will need to work out how you want to take on the roles traditionally assigned to men and to women in mixed-gender weddings. Your celebrant can help you with this.
A traditional Jewish wedding begins with a groom's tish, Yiddish for table. The groom attempts to present a lecture on the week's Torah portion, while his male friends and family heckle and interrupt him. Meanwhile, the bride is entertained in another room by her female friends and family. Bride and groom may lead the tish together in Conservative and Reform congregations.
The Ketubah Signing
In Orthodox communities, after the tish, the ketubah (Jewish marriage contract) is signed by the groom, the rabbi, and two male witnesses. In Reform and Conservative congregations, the bride may also sign the ketubah, and additional lines can be added for female witnesses, too. The ketubah belongs solely to the bride and is hers to keep as proof of her rights and the groom's responsibilities to her under Jewish law.
The first time a bride and groom see each other in an Orthodox wedding is during the b'deken, or veiling of the bride. Both fathers and all the men lead the groom to the bride's room, where both mothers and all the women surround her. The groom lowers the veil over her face, setting her apart from everyone else and indicating that he is solely interested in her inner beauty. The ceremony is based on the biblical story in which Jacob did not see his bride's face beforehand and was tricked into marrying the wrong sister, Leah. Some couples have created a more egalitarian veiling ceremony in which the bride places a yarmulke on the groom as he covers her with the veil.
The huppah, or wedding canopy, dates back to the tent-dwelling Jewish nomadic days in the desert. Historically, Jewish wedding ceremonies were held outdoors, and the huppah created an intimate, sanctified space. The canopy offers one of the best opportunities to personalize your ceremony. Since there are no formal requirements for its size, shape, or appearance, you can make your own huppah.
When the couple first enters the huppah, the bride circles the groom seven times, representing the seven wedding blessings and seven days of creation, and demonstrating that the groom is the center of her world. To make the ancient ritual reciprocal, many couples opt to circle each other.
The Kiddushin (betrothal ceremony) takes place under the huppah. It begins with greetings, a blessing over the wine, and a sip taken by the bride and groom. Next come the rings: The groom recites an ancient Aramaic phrase as he places the wedding band on his bride's right index finger, the finger believed to be directly connected to the heart. In a double-ring ceremony (not permitted in some Orthodox weddings) the bride also places a ring on the grooms index finger while repeating a feminine form of the Aramaic phrase, or a biblical verse from Hosea or Song of Songs. The ketubah is then read aloud in English and Aramaic.
The sheva b'rachot, or seven blessings, consist of praise for God, a prayer for peace in Jerusalem, and good wishes for the couple. In Sephardic weddings, before the sheva b'rachot are recited, the parents wrap the couple in a tallis, literally binding them together. The rabbi doesn't have to say all seven blessings. You can honor special guests by asking them to read -- or even sing -- some of the blessings.
Breaking of the Glass
Nothing says "Jewish wedding" more than the sound of breaking glass. But what's the point? Depending on whom you ask, the breaking of the wineglass is, among other things: a symbol of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem; a representation of the fragility of human relationships; and a reminder that marriage changes the lives of individuals forever.
In a day filled with chaos, the yihud or "seclusion" is a standout ritual that lets you focus on the day’s true purpose: your new partnership. Immediately after the ceremony, bride and groom retreat to a private room for 15 minutes of personal time.
At the time appointed, the persons to be married, with their witnesses, assemble in the church or some other appropriate place. During their entrance, a hymn, psalm, or anthem may be sung, or instrumental music may be played.
Then the Celebrant, facing the people and the persons to be married, with the woman to the right and the man to the left, addresses the congregation and says:
Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony. The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people.
The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God's will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord. Therefore marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.
Into this holy union N.N.. and N.N.. now come to be joined. If any of you can show just cause why they may not lawfully be married, speak now; or else for ever hold your peace.
Then the Celebrant says to the persons to be married:
I require and charge you both, here in the presence of God, that if either of you know any reason why you may not be united in marriage lawfully, and in accordance with God's Word, you do now confess it.
The Declaration of Consent
The Celebrant says to the woman: N., will you have this man to be your husband; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?
The woman answers: I will.
The Celebrant says to the man: N., will you have this woman to be your wife; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?
The man answers: I will.
The Celebrant then addresses the congregation, saying: Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?
People: We will.
If there is to be a presentation or a giving in marriage, it takes place at this time. A hymn, psalm, or anthem may follow.
The Ministry of the Word
The Celebrant then says to the people: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Celebrant: Let us pray. O gracious and everliving God, you have created us male and female in your image: Look mercifully upon this man and this woman who come to you seeking your blessing, and assist them with your grace, that with true fidelity and steadfast love they may honor and keep the promises and vows they make; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Then one or more of the following passages from Holy Scripture is read. If there is to be a Communion, a passage from the Gospel always concludes the Readings.
• Genesis 1:26-28 (Male and female he created them)
• Genesis 2:4-9, 15-24 (A man cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh)
• Song of Solomon 2:10-13; 8:6-7 (Many waters cannot quench love)
• Tobit 8:5b-8 (New English Bible) (That she and I may grow old together)
• 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (Love is patient and kind)
• Ephesians 3:14-19 (The Father from whom ever family is named)
• Ephesians 5:1-2, 21-33 (Walk in love, as Christ loved us)
• Colossians 3:12-17 (Love which binds everything together in harmony)
• 1 John 4:7-16 (Let us love one another for love is of God)
Between the Readings, a Psalm, hymn, or anthem may be sung or said. Appropriate Psalms are 67, 127, and 128.
Appropriate Gospel Readings include:
• Matthew 5:1-10 (The Beatitudes)
• Matthew 5:13-16 (You are the light...Let your light so shine)
• Matthew 7:21,24-29 (Like a wise man who built his house upon the rock)
• Mark 10:6-9,13-16 (They are no longer two but one)
• John 15:9-12 (Love one another as I have loved you)
A homily or other response to the Readings may follow.
The man, facing the woman and taking her right hand in his, says: In the Name of God, I, N., take you, N., to be my wife, 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 we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.
Then they loose their hands, and the woman, still facing the man, takes his right hand in hers, and says: In the Name of God, I, N., take you, N., to be my husband, 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 we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.
They loose their hands.
The Priest may ask God's blessing on a ring or rings as follows: Bless, O Lord, this ring to be a sign of the vows by which this man and this woman have bound themselves to each other; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The giver places the ring on the ring-finger of the other's hand and says: N., I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow, and with all that I am, and all that I have, I honor you, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (or in the Name of God).
Then the Celebrant joins the right hands of husband and wife and says: Now that N. and N. have given themselves to each other by solemn vows, with the joining of hands and the giving and receiving of a ring, I pronounce that they are husband and wife, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder.
All standing, the Celebrant says: Let us pray together in the words our Savior taught us.
People and Celebrant: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Deacon or other person appointed reads the following prayers, to which the People respond, saying, Amen.
Let us pray.
Eternal God, creator and preserver of all life, author of salvation, and giver of all grace: Look with favor upon the world you have made, and for which your Son gave his life, and especially upon this man and this woman whom you make one flesh in Holy Matrimony. Amen.
Give them wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their common life, that each may be to the other a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity, a comfort in sorrow, and a companion in joy. Amen.
Grant that their wills may be so knit together in your will, and their spirits in your Spirit, that they may grow in love and peace with you and one another all the days of their life. Amen.
Give them grace, when they hurt each other, to recognize and acknowledge their fault, and to seek each other's forgiveness and yours. Amen.
Make their life together a sign of Christ's love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair. Amen.
Bestow on them, if it is your will, the gift and heritage of children, and the grace to bring them up to know you, to love you, and to serve you. Amen.
Give them such fulfillment of their mutual affection that they may reach out in love and concern for others. Amen.
Grant that all married persons who have witnessed these vows may find their lives strengthened and their loyalties confirmed. Amen.
Grant that the bonds of our common humanity, by which all your children are united one to another, and the living to the dead, may be so transformed by your grace, that your will may be done on earth as it is in heaven; where, O Father, with your Son, and the Holy Spirit, you live and reign in perfect unity, now and for ever. Amen.
The Blessing of the Marriage
The people remain standing. The husband and wife kneel, and the Priest says one of the following prayers:
Most gracious God, we give you thanks for your tender love in sending Jesus Christ to come among us, to be born of a human mother, and to make the way of the cross to be the way of life. We thank you, also, for consecrating the union of man and woman in his Name. By the power of your Holy Spirit, pour out the abundance of your blessing upon this man and this woman. Defend them from every enemy. Lead them into all peace. Let their love for each other be a seal upon their hearts, a mantle about their shoulders, and a crown upon their foreheads. Bless them in their work and in their companionship; in their sleeping and in their waking; in their joys and in their sorrows; in their life and in their death. Finally, in your mercy, bring them to that table where your saints feast for ever in your heavenly home; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
O God, you have so consecrated the covenant of marriage that in it is represented the spiritual unity between Christ and his Church: Send therefore your blessing upon these your servants, that they may so love, honor, and cherish each other in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and true godliness, that their home may be a haven of blessing and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The husband and wife still kneeling, the Priest adds this blessing: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, bless, preserve, and keep you; the Lord mercifully with his favor look upon you, and fill you with all spiritual benediction and grace; that you may faithfully live together in this life, and in the age to come have life everlasting. Amen.
The Celebrant may say to the people: The peace of the Lord be always with you.
People: And also with you.
The newly married couple then greet each other, after which greetings may be exchanged throughout the congregation.
When Communion is not to follow, the wedding party leaves the church. A hymn, psalm, or anthem may be sung, or instrumental music may be played.
A Wiccan or Pagan wedding is known as a handfasting ceremony. Handfasting is the ancient Scottish custom of tying a betrothed couple’s hands together and keeping them that way for a year. If they were still together at the end of that year, they would then be officially married.
Although based on timeless and powerful ritual, a wiccan wedding or handfasting is not accepted as a legal marriage in some countries. In those places, couples should also perform a short legal ceremony. There are several traditions that usually accompany a handfasting but, as the rite is extremely personal for each couple, there is also a great deal of flexibility regarding which rituals will be included in each individual ceremony. Wiccan weddings are usually presided over by a priest and a priestess, whose job is to implement the rituals.
A Wiccan wedding can be held at any time of the year, although certain feast days, like Litha (the summer solstice) or Beltane (Mayday), are considered most popular as the weather is good (weather is important, since the ceremony is held outside). The people getting married need not dress in any particular outfits, though they often make selections that include long, light-colored dresses for the bride and traditional dress, an embroidered shirt and pants, or a kilt for the groom.
A circle is cast before the wiccan wedding ceremony begins and the presiding priestess walks the boundaries of the circle and marks it with a ritual knife, the athame, while calling on the four elements and the God and Goddess to bless both the circle and the ceremony. The couple moves in front of the altar, with the bride to the groom’s right, and the bride’s left hand is tied to the groom’s right hand with the traditional red handfasting cord. This cord will be given to the couple after they are married and will serve to remind them of their everlasting passion for each other.
The priest and priestess then assist the couple with the exchange of vows, often reciting their vows for them, and it is at this point that the bride and groom usually exchange rings, which are placed on the bride and groom’s left ring fingers. The Element Quest is then performed with the couple invoking each of the elements in turn (air, fire, water and earth), beginning with air in the east, to bless their union. After the quest has been completed, the priest and priestess call upon the presiding deities to bless the wiccan wedding ceremony.
At this point, the couple is required to jump over the ceremonial broomstick and this can be quite an amusing sight as the couple holding the broomstick is free to adjust the broomstick’s height while the bride and groom, who are still tied together, are jumping. Wine and small cakes are then blessed and shared by the couple and their guests and, after the officiating powers and the elements have been thanked, the priest and priestess formally open the circle by what is known as reverse casting.
At this point in some handfastings, the new husband and wife give small gifts to their guests to thank them for sharing their most important day with them. The parties then move on to the wedding feast, at which it is traditional to serve organic and natural foods. Pagan handfasting is a magical and enchanting ceremony.
And that’s not all: you still have the traditional pagan wedding feast. Celtic Wicca, Fairy Faith and neopagan traditions always have small cakes made with oats or wheat, honey, and raisins. In Irish paganism, the bride and groom should eat three mouthfuls of salt and oatmeal together, said to promote health and keep evil spirits away. In the Hellenic tradition, after the couple exchange vows, the bride is given a piece of cake made of sesame seeds and honey, and quince fruit representing fertility. Instead of throwing rice, the guests throw dried fruit and nuts. There should also be plenty of homemade bread.
Introduction/Welcome: the minister states the purpose of the ceremony and sets the tone you wish for the service
Family/Communal Vows (optional, but it recognizes and enlists the support of those present)
Reading 1 (optional – may be read by a relative or friend)
Introduction to Vows (notifies the congregation to listen for the vows)
Vows (the centerpiece of the ceremony – may be written and read by you, or prompted by the minister with the vows provided in booklet)
Introduction to Ring Exchange
Ring Exchange (optional for one or both of you)
Reading 2 (optional, see booklet)
Music (optional – best if performed live or people will stare at you for 3 minutes)
Or Candle Lighting (optional)
Glass-Breaking (optional, common in Jewish ceremonies)
Recessional (optional, with music)