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Home : Wedding Processional Guide: Bridal Processional Etiquette Made Simple

Wedding Processional Guide & Bridal Processional Etiquette

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Jump to a Topic:
Before You Begin When the Parents Are Divorced or Deceased
Cathoic Wedding Processionals Processionals in Venues with Multiple Aisles
Protestant Wedding Processionals When to Play Music
Jewish Wedding Processionals Guarantee a Smooth Start
Non-denominational Wedding Processionals  

Everyone dreams of the perfect wedding and chances are you have pictured yours too. The flowers need to be arranged just right, the cake has to taste amazing, and the bride has to look stunning. But with all those details it can be easy to overlook the wedding ceremony processional. Sure, you have seen it done before, but have you truly thought about how your bridal processional should go? Creating the right wedding processional can be a matter of religious background, tradition, or personal choice, but designing one that works for your wedding takes a bit of planning. Read on for step-by-step instructions for Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish wedding processionals as well as tips for non-denominational couples and wedding processional etiquette.

And if you're planning to use an aisle runner to make that grand entrance, read our guide to the Seven Most Common Aisle Runner Questions to avoid any wedding day mishaps!

Before You Begin

  • Talk to your priest or officiant first to learn if they have any rules or requirements for your processional.

Before you begin working out the details of your wedding processional order, be sure to determine if there are any restrictions on how your processional may go. Your particular religious denomination may have a strict set of guidelines, or your officiant may have time constraints limiting its length. Even the layout of your venue may make some wedding processions impractical.

  • Decide if you want a traditional wedding processional associated with your religion, want to borrow from another religion, or to create a unique processional of your own.
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If you're permitted to determine the type and length of your processional, then keep in mind that while most wedding processionals follow a similar pattern there are a few key differences between the major religions. You can follow the exact steps provided below or borrow from the different methods to add a unique flavor to your ceremony.

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The Traditional Catholic Wedding Processional

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Catholic wedding processionals tend be shorter than ones from other religions, making for a quick yet elegant start to the ceremony. Simply follow these steps:
  1. The priest enters through a side door and waits at the altar.

  2. The groom and best man follow through the same door and wait at the altar. You may choose to have only the groom enter at this time if you would like the best man to escort the maid of honor.

    Also, if there isn't a side door located near the altar, the priest, groom, and best man may approach the altar from the center aisle.

  3. The groomsmen escort the bridesmaids down aisle, starting with the pair that will be standing farthest from the bride and groom.

  4. The maid of honor enters after the rest of the wedding party, either alone or accompanied by the best man.

  5. Once the wedding party is in place, the ring bearer enters.

  6. The flower girl follows the ring bearer.

  7. The bride enters last, escorted by her father on her right side. The bride's father leads her to the front of the aisle then takes his seat next to the bride's mother.
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Catholic Wedding Processional
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The Traditional Protestant Wedding Processional

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Although similar to the Catholic tradition, Protestant wedding processionals include the mothers of the bride and groom:
  1. The mother of the bride enters first, escorted down the aisle and shown to her seat by the brother of the bride or an usher.

  2. The mother of the groom enters next, also escorted by an usher.

  3. The officiant enters through a side door and waits at the altar after the mothers are seated.

  4. The groom enters through the same side door followed by his best man. Both take their places at the altar.

  5. The groomsmen may also enter through the side door after the best man, or you can choose to have them escort the bridesmaids down the aisle. Either way is acceptable.

    Also, when there is no side door near the altar, the officiant, groom, and groomsmen use the center aisle.

  6. The bridesmaids, except for the maid of honor, proceed down the aisle beginning with the one that will stand farthest away from the bride.

  7. The ring bearer proceeds down the aisle after the rest of the wedding party is in place.

  8. The flower girl follows the ring bearer.

  9. The maid of honor enters after the flower girl and proceeds unescorted down the aisle.

  10. The bride makes her entrance escorted by her father after the maid of honor is in place.
Protestant Wedding Processional
A popular but optional tradition is for the bride and her father to pause just before the altar. The minister then asks, "Who gives this woman to this man?" The bride's father responds with, "I do" or "Her mother and I do." The bride's father then takes his seat while the bride takes her place next to the groom.

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The Traditional Jewish Wedding Processional

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Jewish wedding processions tend to follow tradition rather than strict rules, adding some flexibility to the procession order. They also typically involve more family members than Christian processionals. While a little more time-consuming and complicated, Jewish wedding processionals are great way to include your grandparents in the ceremony.

It is also important to note that seating arrangements at a Jewish wedding are the reverse of the Christian tradition. The groom stands to the left of the bride, not the right. The groom's family is seated on the left side of the aisle; the bride's family is seated to the right. The reason for this reversal can be traced back to the Old Testament Bible. In Psalm 45:9, sometimes called "The Love Song of the King," it states, " your right hand is the royal bride." In Jewish ceremonies, the bride is symbolic of the new queen.

  1. The rabbi and/or the cantor enter.

  2. The grandparents of the bride walk down the aisle and take their seats on the right side in the first or second row.

  3. The grandparents of the groom then walk down the aisle and take their seats on the left side in the first or second row.

  4. The groomsmen proceed down the aisle to the huppah in pairs starting with the shortest groomsmen first and following in order of increasing height.

  5. The best man follows the other groomsmen but walks down the aisle alone.

  6. The groom follows the best man and is escorted by his parents, with his mother on his right side and his father on his left.

    The groom's parents take their places under the huppah on the groom's side and traditionally remain standing throughout the ceremony, though it is acceptable to let them be seated.

  7. The bridesmaids enter one at a time in order of shortest to tallest. If you have more than four bridesmaids, you may choose to send them down the aisle in pairs.

  8. The maid of honor enters after the other bridesmaids.

  9. The ring bearer enters after the maid of honor.

  10. The flower girl follows the ring bearer. Both the ring bearer and the flower girl may be seated with their parents once they reach the front.

  11. The bride enters last, escorted by her parents with her father on her left arm. The bride's mother walks on the bride's right side.
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Jewish Wedding Processional

Non-denominational Wedding Processions

Non-denominational wedding processionals are, of course, usually left up to your interpretation. Although Protestant-style processionals are popular with many non-denominational couples, you are free to borrow elements from the Catholic and Jewish traditions, or to make up a few rules of your own. One thing to remember is that historically the bride stands on the left while the groom stands on the right, except in the Jewish tradition.

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When the Parents Are Divorced or a Parent Is Deceased

Wedding processional etiquette for all three of the traditions above agrees that when one or both sets of parents are divorced the most important consideration is comfort. Divorced parents may still sit or stand together if they wish, but it is also acceptable to seat them in separate rows if they prefer. Step-parents may also be included in the processional if desired. Discuss your options with your parents beforehand to make an arrangement that works best for everyone.

If the bride's father is deceased it is perfectly acceptable for another male family member or a close friend of the family to escort the bride down the aisle.

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Processionals in Venues with More Than One Aisle

It is common for many churches and venues to have two aisles, making it impossible for a traditional walk down the center. There are a few things you can do in this situation:
  1. Simply choose one of the aisles and try to seat most people, family first, on each side of this aisle.

    This way you can keep your wedding procession order unchanged, though keep in mind that guests on the far side may not be able to see the processional at all.

  2. Have the bridal processional follow one aisle and the recessional follow the other.

    This method provides an opportunity for all your guests to see the wedding party walk down the aisle, even if it's in the other direction.

  3. Send the groom's party down the right aisle and the bride's party down the left, or split attendants into pairs and send them down separate aisles.

    This method can create a nice balance between the aisles but can also create confusion at the altar if you're not careful. Be sure everyone understands their places and the timing of the processional order if you go with this method.
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When to Play Music

  • Begin playing music in the background about 20 minutes before the start of the ceremony to give your guests time to be seated.

In most cases it is a good idea to have music playing in the background starting about 20 minutes to a half hour before the ceremony. This will help set the tone of your wedding and inform guests that the ceremony is about to begin while still giving them ample time to get comfortably seated.

  • Check with your venue and your officiant to learn what music is acceptable.

Many officiants have rules regarding the type and style of music that may be played at your ceremony, while each venue may have unique requirements or limitations. Consult with both to determine what your musical options are.

  • Switch to a traditional march just before the bride makes her entrance.

Many couples also choose to change the background music at the start of the main wedding processional. This is a nice way to let your guests know the ceremony is starting and to build excitement for the bride's entrance. Timing, however, can be an issue here so be sure to select pieces that won't suddenly end in the middle of your processional. Also be careful to choose music that can be easily "cut off" at any point for when the wedding march begins.

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A Well Planned Wedding Processional Is a Perfect Start

The bridal processional isn't just a tradition; it's the official start to your wedding and is the moment when everyone's excitement (and nervousness) will be at its peak. Whether you've chosen a Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish wedding processional, careful planning and practice will guarantee a smooth start that will help the rest of your ceremony go off without a hitch. So, when you start dreaming about your perfect wedding, be sure to spend some time dreaming about your wedding procession order too!

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Ready to get started? Download a compact printable version of our wedding processional guide with everything you need on a single page that can fit inside a binder, folder, or your purse!