Wherever you chose to be married, many features of the wedding ceremony are the same. You have vows, rings, flowers and veils, just like brides down through recent years. I am sure many of you look carefully at your mother and your grandmother’s wedding and soak up all the details. The question is, what will make YOUR wedding different? How does your wedding ceremony reflect your personality, or your beloved’s personality.
Many times the difference between a memorable wedding ceremony and one which is the "same old same old" depends on your Wedding Celebrant. You plan every detail of the event with your wedding planner or your friends, but do you stop and think about the words you will actually be saying
The Order of the Ceremony
I have been a Wedding celebrant for more than 20 years, and officiated at more than 2000 weddings. I can say categorically that Brides and Grooms are happiest when they know what to expect, and what is expected of them. So although the Wedding Ceremony has a form and a structure, there is every reason for you to make the program your own.
In my practice I have written many ceremonies for all kinds of weddings. Not all of them are secular, although I have written ceremonies for Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto which reflect a particular culture or practice. In writing a ceremony you must be aware that there are certain things which must by law, be included in the ceremony. But in most cases, you can construct your wedding ceremony around this set of requirements.
I have chosen to write about the Contemporary ceremony I use, because after all, I am a Civil Registrar of Marriages, but also because this is my favourite and the favourite of a vast majority of my couples.
The Seating of the Guests
This is the domain of your wedding planner or co-ordinator. Just to say that protocol dictates that the Groom’s mother is seated immediately prior to the Bride’s mother, and the Bride’s mother is seated immediately before the Bridal Party’s entrance. It is customary that your Wedding Celebrant asks the guests to stand to welcome the bride.
Your guests are happy and excited to share in your big day. Some of them have traveled a long distance and spent a great deal of time and money to be present. Your wedding celebrant needs to tell them how much you and your family appreciate their presence.
Words of Celebration
I use this as an opportunity to talk a bit about the what marriage means. I might use a poem, something from my own experience, something the couple might have mentioned is important to them, or something the couple might have asked me to say. If there are missing loved ones who the couple feel are present in spirit, this is the time to mention that in the midst of joy, we acknowledge some persons who are absent but we know they are with the couple in thought or in spirit.
Everybody at the ceremony knows this is coming. Is there any reason why you cannot be legally married to this person. Usually neither the Bride or the Groom is required to speak. However this is your last chance to own up because from here on in, things move very fast towards a legal and binding contract.
Vows of Intention
All over the world, practice, custom and law require that the question is asked. “Do you take this person/woman/man to be your husband/wife/partner? And the individual responds, “I do”. Many Marriage Laws require the person being married to state this in their own words, sometimes the actual words to be said are proscribed, but usually, a simple “I do” is sufficient.
Sometimes the wedding celebrant goes a bit further and asks whether you are prepared to make certain promises. I like to ask “Do you take this person to be your friend, and companion, to share your life and your love, through all the days of your lives?” Marriage is a serious contract between two individuals, and it will change their lives. It is not to be entered into frivolously and without due consideration.
This is the first opportunity for you to really put your mark on the proceedings. Over the years I have collected many different readings from all over the world, and I usually share these with my couples. Once they have deliberated and agreed on what the reading is to be, this is where it is most appropriate. Usually the celebrant does the reading, or you could have one of your family members or guests do it. If for example, you were having a solo or a duet, or a piece of music, this would be a good place to have that.
This is a biggie. Many brides and grooms are nervous about flubbing their lines, as it were, speaking too softly, speaking too loudly, or just speaking in public. The biggest fear of all brides and grooms is that they will break into tears as the emotion of the moment washes over them.
I always think Brides and Grooms who agree, and compose their own vows are very brave, and I have seen wonderful, heartfelt vows exchanged by many couples. However 98% of all the couples I have married like to repeat their vows after me. We have beautiful vows in our Contemporary Wedding Ceremony, but no wedding celebrant is usually averse to having you repeat something you have written yourselves. Just be sure not to put anything too personal, remember someone else is delivering your words for you to repeat.
The Exchange of Rings
This is a topic all to itself which perhaps I will write about on another occasion. Who holds the rings? What happens to the rings? Who keeps the engagement ring? In fact about the only thing most people agree on about the rings is that they are put on the left hand (except Scandinavian couples, and some Europeans who wear their wedding ring on their right hand.) I have one definite position on rings. Keep them away from children and pillows if at all possible! Perhaps this is because I officiate hundreds of beach weddings every year, and pillows, rings and sand together with small children (and sometimes pets) don’t usually mix. So it you have to have this combination, tie pretend rings on the pillow and give the real thing to the bestman/witness whatever. Again, my suggestion, if you have two rings give them to the Bestman, the Maid of Honour is usually busy holding the bouquet/bouquets and can’t juggle both.
Then, there is the matter of what is said when the rings are exchanged. My standard words, repeated after me in turn are “I give you this ring, in token and pledge of my constant love and commitment.”
I don’t think the Wedding Ceremony needs to be more than 15 minutes long, after all every one is looking forward to the cake and champagne! However, if you want to do a second reading or song, this is where it goes. If you are having a prayer at the end of your ceremony, you might want to consider a Bible reading here, but of course you could just as well have a reading from Dr Seuss as one of my sons had.
Many people are happy to have a prayer included in their wedding ceremony. Of course, if you are being married in a church by a pastor, then a prayer or even two prayers is “de rigeur”. If you go the two prayer route, then a prayer of thanksgiving would go at the beginning after the welcome, and a prayer of blessing here at the end. Remember however that it is your choice, and if you are uncomfortable with a prayer, leave it out.
My late father, Vernon Jackson, first introduced me to “the Charge”. This is simply the time when the Wedding Celebrant reminds the couple that marriage is serious business, and takes the opportunity to give them one final piece of advice on the journey they have embarked on. Always the pragmatist, my mother Francine, who is a Civil Registrar of Marriages too, pointed out that it is a good opportunity for the Bride to get her flowers back from the Maid of Honour, and compose herself for the big moment which is fast approaching now.
The Final Blessing
I use the Final Blessing often in place of the prayer, some couples want to have both, in which case I say them both after the charge, and not separate them by the Charge as I have done here. This is an opportunity to include the names of the couples children, if this is an encore marriage or a blended family… thus “ May your children, John and Mary be happy and healthy, and is an opportunity to include children by name, if they are present, or even absent. Or, the celebrant could be more general, meaning may your future children be healthy and happy. One thing a celebrant should be sure of is that this reference to children is appropriate and desired by the couple.
The moment everyone has been waiting for! I say “ And now,…in accordance with the laws of the Cayman Islands and by virtue of the authority vested in me, I now pronounce you to be husband and wife!
All in one breath …I say to the Groom, “You may kiss your wife.!”
I usually ask the guests to stand for the announcement. This is the time when the confetti, petals, rice etc gets thrown so logistically the guests are wanting to stand anyway. Then I say “ Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you “Mr & Mrs ….” Please be sure to let your celebrant know if you are keeping your own name or if you don’t wish to be announced as Mr & Mrs. An alternative is for you to be announced as “ the newly-weds John & Mary”.
This is the bit where you exit to be greeted by your friends and family. You leave the ceremony area in the reverse order to the way you entered, first the Bride and Groom, then the wedding party, and then the parents or the guests seated in the front row. It is a nice gesture to let your celebrant exit after the front row guests.
Whether you are having a simple ceremony on the beach, or a more elaborate ceremony at a church, or alternative venue, the wedding ceremony should be full of your personal style, and reflect your beliefs and values. Putting some time and thought into your ceremony will result in a wedding ceremony you can look back on with pride for an event filled with happy memories.
( Joy Basdeo MBE, JP is a Civil Registrar of Marriages who lives and works in the Cayman Islands. She has performed more than 2000 wedding ceremonies for couples from all over the world. She chronicles her adventures in her blog at www.cayman-islands-weddings.com and posts many of her weddings at www.facebook.com/SimplyWeddingsCayman)