With Christianity being the largest group of religion in the world, it’s likely that we would all either have been or will be attending one. Divided into dozens of denominations, there are slight variations in the order of ceremony practiced in different Christian houses of worship. That being said, major common threads exist. Knowing what to expect and the meaning behind certain practices will deepen one’s appreciation of the experience. For the clueless guest, answers for frequently asked questions are included at the end.
1. Bridal Procession
Before the ceremony begins, the groom will take his place at the front of the altar, accompanied by his groomsmen. Christians believe that earthly marriages are a reflection of God’s union with His people. Since it is God who initiates relationship with us and came for His bride – the church, that is His people. For this reason, the groom enters the church first and awaits his bride.
The procession begins with the bridesmaids entering the room, followed by the ring bearer and flower girl, and finally, the bride. Traditionally, she is escorted by her father but many today opt to be escorted by both parents. Alternatively, she is escorted by the parent figure(s) she is closest to.
GUEST TIPS: Guest are typically seated at the start and instructions to stand would be given by the master of ceremony to stand when the bride begin her walk down the aisle.
2. Presentation of the Bride
The presentation happens seemlessly with the bridal procession. It is a brief moment shared between the father or parent of the bride and the couple before she steps on the altar. As head over their households, an unwed lady is under the covering and protection of her father. As the couple enters marriage, the headship of the father over her daughter passes on to her husband. As a father escorts his daughter down the aisle, he is symbolically giving permission; saying “I approve of this man as your choice for a husband, and am now bringing you to him.”
The White Dress
The white wedding dress has a two-fold significance. It is a symbol of the bride’s purity in heart and life. It’s also a picture of the righteousness. This is the reason why a woman who is getting married for the second time is sometimes seen in a non-white dress.
“And the bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean.” Revelation 19:7-8.
3. Praise and Worship
During this time, an appointed group (musicians) will lead those in attendance to worship. Christians praise and worship in the form of songs to give reverence and show love to God. A few Christian songs will be sung to honour and acknowledge that God is the centre of everything.
GUEST TIPS : Guest are invited to stand and those of similar faith are welcomed to join in worship.
4. Sermon Message
Also called the “ceremony message,” this is the portion of a Christian wedding ceremony that is tailored to the couple specifically. A minister offers insights into their relationship and anecdotes of their path to marriage, and will also share and discuss Bible scripture that is applicable to their story. 1 Corinthians 13, which begins with “Love is patient, love is kind …” is one of the most popular scripture readings in Christian wedding ceremonies.
5. Exchange of Vows
The exchanging of vows is when the couple makes mutual promises to one another to uphold the sanctity of their marriage. Lead by an officiant or minister, the couple will be asked to repeat lines after them, responding with their “I do”s. Couples may choose to make more specific or personalised promises to each other beyond the traditional ones. Thereafter, the minister may follow up with “community vows,” in which guests are requested to pledge their support to the couple in the upholding of their vows.
Joining of Right Hands
In the Old Testament, when two individuals decide to make a solemn vow, they would join the palms of their right hands. In a wedding, as the bride and groom face one another to say their vows, they join their right hands and publicly commit everything they are, and everything they possess, in a covenant relationship. They leave their families, forsake all others, and become one with their spouse
6. Prayers for the Couple
After the exchange of vows, a minister offer words of blessing for the couple and may ask guests to participate in a symbolic “laying of the hands” gesture, in which guests (while remaining seated) will bow their heads in prayer and stretch a hand forward towards a couple. Close family may be ask to join the bride and groom at the altar. This is done to confer and symbolically support the newlyweds.
7. Unity Ceremony
The unity ceremony symbolises the joining of two persons together as one. One common unity ceremony is the lighting of a unity candle. A representative from each side of the family (often the couple’s mothers) each lights a family candle to represent their side, the couple then uses their respective family candles to light a new flame together. Different types of unity ceremony can be seen, depending on local practices, such as sand pouring or feet washing.
8. Ring Exchange
After exchanging vows, the bride and groom will put a wedding ring on the left ring finger of their significant other. This is often accompanied by additional promises made to one another. The wedding ring is an outward symbol of the couple’s inward bond, illustrating with an unending circle, the eternal quality of love.
9. Removal of the Bridal Veil
Not only does the bridal veil show the modesty and purity of the bride and her reverence for God, it reminds Christians of the temple veil which was torn in two when Christ died on the cross. The removing of the veil took away the separation between God and man, giving believers access into the very presence of God. Since Christian marriage is a picture of the union between Christ and the church, we see another reflection of this relationship in the removal of the bridal veil. The groom will unveil his bride and kiss her as a sign that this matter is settled.
To conclude the wedding ceremony, the minister declares the couple officially married in the eyes of the church and introduces the newlywed couple to the congregation (guests).
The couple goes back down the aisle and exits the house of worship officially married and are followed down the aisle by their ring bearers, flower girls, and their wedding party.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I wear?
There are no specific dress code needed to enter a church. Having said that, it would be best to err on the side of caution lean towards a more modest dressing keeping in mind to keep things semi-formal, such as long pants for men and knee length dresses for the women.
Where do I sit?
The first couple of rows are usually reserved for the couple’s immediate family and the wedding party. When entering the house of worship, sit on the right if you’re a guest of the groom and the right if you’re a guest of the bride. When seated along the aisle, be sure to look out for confettis or flower petals nearby and remember to throw them as the couple passes by during the recessional.
Should I bring gifts?
Gifts are not necessary during a ceremony but welcomed all the same. There may be a welcome table where you can drop it off. Alternatively, drop your gifts to a maid of honour or bridesmaid.
How long does the ceremony last?
The ceremony would usually take up to 1 and a half hour.
Will there be food?
Typically, the couple would prepare some refreshments after. Commonly, a church ceremony is held in the morning and brunch or lunch would be served after.