Whether you're having a civil, religious, or interfaith ceremony will determine how and who you choose to be your officiant. During the initial meeting, start by asking questions about his or her approach to the service and what the ceremony will entail -- whether there will be a speech or a sermon, and whether the couple can offer input on the subject. Should the couple choose to add some personal touches to the ceremony, such as writing their own vows, they can ask the officiant for suggestions and advice.
For couples who want an alternative approach, asking a friend or relative to officiate seems like the most obvious choice. Still, there are important things to consider before deciding who that person will be. First of all, it should be someone who's in front of an audience. Your officiant also needs to be reliable and well-organized--you want to trust this person not only to get the right legal documentation, but also to craft a ceremony and prepare for it like a pro. Finally, your officiant should understand and appreciate the honor you've given to him and deliver something meaningful and powerful.
As you gear up for your search, think about whom you'd like to have recite. Many couples assign readings to relatives or friends not included in the wedding party. The bride's and groom's mothers could each read something, or, if the bride has both a father and stepfather, one might walk her down the aisle and the other do a reading. It's also best to ask someone who has a strong voice -- and isn't shy.
How to find the right words? Start by perusing these selections, which range from classic religious passages to more modern works.
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
Song of Solomon 2:10-13
Passages from "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran
"The Apache Wedding Prayer"
Selections from "A Return to Love" by Marianne Williamson
Passages from "The Path to Love" by Deepak Chopra
Classic Works of Poetry
Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare
"How Do I Love Thee?" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
"Carry Your Heart With Me" by e.e. Cummings
"It's All I Have to Bring Today" by Emily Dickinson
Sonnet 79 by Pablo Neruda
For More Ideas, Check Out These Wedding Anthologies
"Into the Garden, A Wedding Anthology: Poetry and Prose on Love and Marriage" edited by Robert Hass and Stephen Mitchell
"Wedding Readings: Centuries of Rituals on Love and Marriage" edited by Ellen Munro
"African-American Wedding Readings" edited by Tamara Nikuradse
Vows for religious weddings vary according to the specific religion. In Jewish ceremonies vows are recited only when the rings are exchanged, but in other ceremonies, the declaration of vows symbolizes the moment when the bride and groom become husband and wife.
There are several ways to perform the following monologue-style vows: You can memorize the words ahead of time; you can repeat them after the officiant; or the officiant can say them in the form of a question, and you can respond with "I do" or "I will."
At most wedding ceremonies, the exchange of rings immediately follows the recitation of vows and serves to seal those promises. The ring symbolizes the unbroken circle of love, and at many ceremonies, more vows are spoken as rings are exchanged. In some cases, the bride receives a ring during the ceremony but the groom does not. For many weddings, couples choose the double-ring ceremony, wherein both the bride and groom give and receive rings. See the most common customs for their respective religions; and speak with your clergy member about any approved variations.
If you're planning to write your own vows, think about what you'd like to say at least a month before the wedding. Will you write your vows together or separately? If the latter, will you share them with each other before the ceremony or let your words be a surprise? Spend time alone and together reflecting on how you fell in love, what you admire in each other, milestones in your romance, and hopes for the future. If a line from a poem or song appeals to you, write it down, too. Include what's important to you. Also, be sure to discuss your ideas with your officiant to make sure he or she is okay with it and that it works with the ceremony.
A unique musical performance can be entertaining and expressive. If your father always sang you to sleep in his rich tenor, a solo by him would be unforgettable. Or choose pieces that are important to you as a couple; you could enter or leave to a song from the soundtrack of a favorite movie you saw together or a contemporary tune that holds significance for you.
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