A Marriage Ceremony Timeline

A bride and groom standing on the beach after their wedding.

While every religious tradition and personal preference can change the length of a marriage ceremony, there are some core components that are quite common in a typical wedding in the United States. Clearly, you can add and subtract items based on what you want for your ceremony, but here’s a wedding timeline that can flexibly expand and contract. With this structure, you can expect your ceremony to take between 25 and 35 minutes, including more time if you have religious or other ceremonial rites to accomplish, and less time if you cut some of the elements for simplicity.

Music Before and During the Processional (5 Minutes)

A bride walking down the aisle with her father.

Often, one of the cues that the wedding ceremony is about to start is that the ushers will seat the mothers or other important women in the lives of the bride and groom, and the groom and officiant will step out in the front of the assembled guests. At this point, special music will often play while bridesmaids, flower girls, and ring bearers process into the room. This time can be shorter if only the bride will walk down the aisle, or only the bride and one attendant.

Officiant Welcome and/or Prayer (3 Minutes)

Usually, the officiant will welcome guests, generally remark on how important and wonderful the occasion is, and often offer a prayer of hope and positivity for the couple. If prayer isn’t part of your ceremony, this time can be devoted to the officiant talking briefly about what he or she knows about the bride and groom, what makes their union special, and how grateful they are to have so many loved ones present with them. This need not be long, but often the ceremony feels a little rushed without it.

Wedding Vows and Declarations (5-7 Minutes)

A bride and groom exchanging wedding vows.

At this point, most couples repeat pledges and vows to each other based on either traditional vows or their own commitments to each other. This is a very important part of the process, but it isn’t usually all that long. Think carefully about how long it really takes to read what you want to read aloud or to repeat the traditional vows from the minister or officiant. That all-important “I do” or “I will” can be faster than you think!

Readings and Message from Officiant (10 Minutes, but Varies)

In many ceremonies that have a religious bent, there is a short message about what a holy text says about love and marriage, as well as general positive advice for the couple to enter marriage with a commitment to selflessly caring for each other and accompanying each other through the difficulties and joys of life. If you don’t have an officiant who already knows what he or she wants to say about the religious aspect of love, you can consider picking out poetry or passages from important literature that illustrate the aspects of love that matter most to you and your spouse to be. You can ask the officiant or some special friends or family members to read these passages aloud, giving the guests something to think about and helping you connect and maintain your definition of love in all your memories of this ceremony.

Unity Ceremony (3-5 Minutes)

It’s common these days to make a physical ritual part of the ceremony. A popular option is a candle lighting ceremony, during which the bride and groom each take a candle and light a third, unlit, candle to represent their unity. Other “unity” ceremonies exist (filling a jar with two colors of sand, braiding strands of rope), but there are also other options. One beautiful ceremony from the Christian perspective is to literally wash each other’s feet as a metaphor for doing the hard things in life for each other to hold each other up. These rituals aren’t essential, but having a memorable moment together can be a nice way to tie the ceremony together with only a few extra minutes.

Declaration of the Couple and Recessional (3-5 minutes)

The end of the ceremony tends to involve the officiant declaring that the couple is now married and offering them the chance to give each other a smooch. Once this epic kiss is done, the music tends to start back up and the couple walks down the aisle together. Others tend to recess as well, including the bridal party and the officiant. It can be a nice gesture to wait at the exit to greet your guests, but you can also slip away for a minute or two before photographs or a reception if you and your new spouse just want a moment to breathe before the continued festivities.

No matter what you add or remove, do honestly account for how long your ceremony will be—this will help with any dinner, reception, or photography timelines later in the day!

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