Ceremony Rehearsal Guidelines and Processional Advice

It is finally the week of your wedding! You and your fiancé have been planning for months and the rehearsal day is finally here! All the plans are set, the balances are settled, everyone’s attire has been fitted and picked up. You have planned the most amazing rehearsal dinner to kick off your wedding festivities… But first, you must get through the rehearsal itself.

We cannot tell you how many couples have arrived to their rehearsal, buzzing to see their entire bridal party together for the first time and they check in with their coordinator and/or officiant, and they’re asked for their final processional order and their response is… “My what?!”

If you don’t know what the processional order should be, or are overwhelmed by developing this order and planning for the success of your overall ceremony and rehearsal, read on for ways to best prepare and plan for a quick and seamless ceremony rehearsal so that you can get to the rest of the evening’s celebrations in no time!

It is important to remember that your rehearsal isn’t intended to be a dry run through of your entire ceremony. Instead, it is meant to practice walking in and out, and knowing where everyone will stand, while your officiant briefly runs through the major points of the ceremony. This should be a swift and simple process, usually only taking a half hour with the proper planning beforehand.

Before we jump into the nitty gritty, two foolproof tips to a successful ceremony and rehearsal: hire a professional coordinator and experienced officiant. If that is not in the budget, or if you want to put a more personal touch on the ceremony, be sure to ask a responsible and assertive family member to assist you so that you can be fully present. Also, when opting for a family member or friend to officiate your ceremony, discuss all aspects of your ceremony details before the rehearsal to avoid confusion and frustration.

Disclaimer: While we respect and honor all relationships, despite gender or sexuality, for the sake of this post we will use the term “bride and groom”

Visual provided courtesy of Rev. Laura C. Cannon & Associates

  1. PLAN AHEAD. Develop your processional order ahead of time and discuss this, along with all other ceremony details, with your officiant ahead of time. Your processional order is who is walking down the aisle and in what order. Traditionally, the order is as follows:
    • Officiant
    • Important guests (e.g. grandparents, parents of the groom, mother of the bride with attendant, etc.)
    • Groom
    • Bridesmaid and groomsman (pair and repeat accordingly)
    • Maid of Honor and Best Man
    • Ring Bearer(s)
    • Flower Girl(s)
    • Bride and Attendant
      • PRO TIP: Note any song changes that might act as a cue for the different groupings
      • DISCLAIMER: There is not one “right” way to order this – feel free to add your own personal touch if you have other plans for this ceremonious moment
  2. SHARE THIS INFORMATION AHEAD OF TIME. Do you have a bridal party group text, Facebook group, email thread, etc. in the works? Are you preparing bridal party gift bags? It might be wise to send a brief message and/or include a small printout of important day-of details, like the processional order and maybe even a concise general timeline of the day (arrival, HMU schedule, ceremony start, cocktail hour, reception, event end, shuttle times) or emergency contact info (wedding planner, venue, MOH/BM phone numbers).
  3. DAY-OF REHEARSAL START AT THE ALTAR. Once everyone has arrived and gotten the chance to acquaint themselves, we find that it is easiest to start your rehearsal in the middle, right at the altar. Remember, the point of the ceremony is letting your bridal party know where to stand, where to walk and who they are walking with, so start by evenly spacing everyone at the front of the ceremony site.
    • Referencing the visual above, traditionally, the bride, maid of honor, and bridesmaids will be on the left side, while the groom, best man and groomsmen will be on the right side. The officiant should stand in the middle.
  4. PRACTICE THE RECESSIONAL. Once everyone is in place, while you still (hopefully) have everyone’s attention, begin practicing the recessional – before doing so, instruct everyone to stay in their pairings as they exit toward the processional start point/other designated area.
    • Soon-to-be newlyweds, pretend that you’ve just sealed it with a kiss and begin with the bride and groom exiting down the aisle toward the back. Take your time exiting and maybe even stop halfway for a quick smooch (and photo). Once the newlyweds make the full exit, the bridal party should begin their exit. The maid of honor and best man should lead the way, with each couple behind them exiting when the couple ahead of them is about halfway down the aisle. The parents should then exit (if applicable), with the officiant directing your guests to enjoy cocktail hour.
      • PRO TIP: On the day-of the wedding, if you are taking photos immediately following your ceremony, go the opposite direction of cocktail hour so you can quickly sneak away for these photos, instead of being bombarded by well wishes from all your guests right away (instruct your family and/or bridal party to do the same, if they are needed for photos).
  5. LINE UP FOR THE PROCESSIONAL. Your bridal party should already be in their respective pairings, so it helps to instruct them back to the processional starting point. Referencing the processional order in STEP 1, it is typical for the officiant to walk down the aisle first, or perhaps approach from stage right. Once the officiant is in place, important guests, again referenced above, should enter or be escorted to their seats. Followed by the groom, who might walk down the aisle with an escort, or approach from stage right (at this point, based on preference, the groomsmen may enter, too, or they can escort the bridesmaids in as laid out).  Assuming the groomsmen will escort the bridesmaids, they will be next in the processional order and should offer the ladies their left arm. Each couple should begin their entrance when the couple ahead of them is about halfway toward the altar. The best man and maid of honor should proceed next. Followed by the ring bearer(s) and flower girl(s). Once the flower girls have approached the final row of guest seating, the bride and her attendant should begin the grand bridal entrance.
  6. PRACTICE THE HAND-OFF. Usually there are a lot of nerves and excitement at this point, so it wouldn’t hurt to practice the way the bride will be handed off. Typically, the attendant will offer the bride a hug or kiss, or perhaps remove her veil. It is then typical to shake hands with or hug the groom. The bride will hand her bouquet to her maid of honor or designated bridesmaid, while the maid of honor or nearest bridesmaid adjusts the train on the dress, as needed. The bride and groom should stand facing each other, joining hands when ready.
  7. BRIEF RUN THROUGH OF CEREMONY DETAILS. At this point, it is your officiant’s time to shine! They should take over all the talking points, briefly speaking through the ceremony headings so everyone has a rough idea of the order of ceremony events. It is typical to practice any readings, unity ceremonies, and when the rings should be presented and by who.
    • PRO TIP: Give the ring bearer(s) fake rings, or have them carry a cute sign in lieu of the rings to ensure nothing of value is lost along the way.
  8. PRACTICE THE RECESSIONAL AGAIN. Practice makes perfect! If you feel it’s necessary to practice the recessional and/or processional, again, now would be the time for that.
  9. ASK AND ANSWER ANY QUESTIONS. Is anyone confused by their role or responsibilities? Are there any details making you feel nervous or uneasy? This should be addressed at the rehearsal so that the day of goes off just as rehearsed.

While we know there are countless variations and traditions to take into consideration when planning your wedding ceremony, we hope this breakdown of rehearsal guidelines is a helpful guide to streamlining your rehearsal success! Comment below if there is anything that we missed that should be included on this list. Are there other details that you’re stumped on in the planning process? Let us know and stay tuned for more tips and tricks for your wedding planning success!


Image courtesy of Kerri Carlquist Photography from an October wedding ceremony in the Forest