How Weddings Work: Processional

Many couples think their Vows are the entirety of a ceremony, and the magical moment when they become married. Actually, Vows are just a small segment of a larger ceremony, albeit the most romantic part. The words an officiant needs to hear in order to marry you are “I Do” or “I Will” to the question of “Do you want to be married to this person?”


But let’s start at the beginning – where else? The Processional, or walking-in, can be done in many ways, but the most common is for one partner to be waiting at the front, and the other walks down the aisle with guests standing in respect. Many times, it is the groom at the altar, and the bride walking down the aisle, sometimes with a father or mentor. Historically, this was because the bride “belonged” to the father until he “gave” her to her husband. But anymore, it’s simply a respectful gesture to someone who means a lot to you and perhaps help raise you. And, if you’re a little nervous being the focus of so much attention, having someone walk next to you can be comforting. If you’re the partner, usually the groom, waiting at the top of the aisle, you usually have your groomsmen and officiant there to calm your nerves.

Though as an officiant, I don’t deal directly with music, typically you will need 2-3 different songs for the Processional. One is for family members and special guests who you want seated apart from most of your guests. That song also can be used for the groom, groomsmen, and officiant, who walk down the aisle or come in from the side. Another song is needed for the wedding party. If the groomsmen didn’t walk in from the side, they can escort the bridesmaids down the aisle, then split off to their respective sides when reaching the altar area. Finally, ring bearers and flower girls come down the aisle. If you’ve been keeping track, depending on how many are in your wedding party and how well-behaved your ring bearer and flower girl are, this song might need to be a bit longer. Finally, the partner of honor, usually the bride, needs their own song. Keep your venue in mind when choosing songs. It doesn’t take more than 30 seconds, generally, for the bride to walk down the aisle, and it becomes very awkward for everyone if you’ve made it to the ceremony spot and expect the music to continue playing for another 2 minutes, so pick something short and meaningful.

Everyone is now in their ceremony location, and the guests are standing. The bride is with her father-figure, the groomsmen on the right side (looking toward the front), the bridesmaids on the left, the officiant in the middle, and the groom is waiting eagerly to hold hands with his beloved.

Let me warn you that the Processional is by far the most frightening and nerve-wracking part of the ceremony for the couple. If you aren’t used to being the center of attention, having dozens if not hundreds of your friends and family looking at you at the same time, it can be overwhelming. The key is to focus on your beloved, whether they are waiting at the top of the aisle for you, or walking down the aisle to you. And it’s OK to cry a little. Keep a kerchief in your hand near the bouquet, or in your pocket, and dab (don’t wipe!) the tears away. The good news is that once you’ve reached your final spot, time seems to go into overdrive.

Up next, the Blessing of the Ceremony Space. Tune in next week for a detailed explanation.

(Keep in mind, same sex weddings can be quite different, or virtually the same, for the Processional. Make sure to speak with your officiant and day-of coordinator of your wishes. Just because this is a traditional Processional doesn’t mean you must do it this way. However, this order is well-understood in the wedding professions, and it works, perhaps because it has been perfected over the centuries.)

– Reverend Meghan Gurley