The Episcopal Diocese
of New York

1047 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10025
Tel: (212) 316-7400

The Liturgical Commision

On Marriage

Members of the Commission
The Rev’d Lloyd Prator, Chair
Dr. Owen Burdick
The Rev’sd Sr. Jean Campbell
The Rev’d Dr. Paul D. Clayton, Jr.
Mr. Jospeh Costa
Deacon Jacques Girard
Ms. Margaret Lehrecke
Ms. Carol McKenna
The Rev’s Rhoda Treherne-Thomas
Mr. Martin E. Boehling
Br. Tobias Haller, BSG
The Rev’d Masud Syedullah



The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage is one of the most joyful of the pastoral offices celebrated in our parish churches. It is an occasion when we celebrate the covenant of marriage for those in our congregations called to this vocation and is also a time when we welcome to our Church many outside our community who may be visiting an Episcopal Church for the first time. The quiet dignity, beauty and traditional simplicity of the wedding liturgy can be an effective way of presenting our traditions and our faith to those who visit our churches.

Weddings have recently become very costly undertakings. In planning weddings, clergy should encourage simplicity and urge the couple to keep costs low so that undue burdens are not placed upon the families, and that expensive accessories and other events do not overshadow the powerful simplicity of the rite of joining hands and exchanging vows in the setting of the Church’s liturgy.

In this document, we present the considered policy of Bishop Grein and his Liturgical Commission concerning the way in which this pastoral office is to be celebrated. This is primarily a document concerned with liturgy, so there are some areas which we do not explore. We believe, for example, that the premarital counseling of a couple is primarily an exercise of pastoral ministry and propose to leave guidelines for that ministry to others.

In some cases, we are suggesting policies and procedures which may be at variance with widespread practices in our diocese. In every case, where we are suggesting changes, we believe that we have offered good and compelling reasons for them. We hope that this document can serve as a tool for parochial education and a guideline which the clergy can come to accept fully as time passes. We are aware, in our current culture, that many clergy find themselves in situations where local traditions have powerful influence in and over the Church. We hope that the clergy will be sensitive to those concerns, but at the same time accept the discipline of striving for the very best liturgy that we can celebrate. We are also aware that in many places, much teaching remains to be done and that in many cases, such teaching must take the form of a developing oral tradition. We hope that the clergy will engage in this process with enthusiasm and joy.

Marriage in Scripture and Theology

Biblical Foundation

Since the Bible is primarily a book of sacred covenant and only incidentally a record of social and cultural practices, there is no orderly exposition of the history of matrimony within its pages. However, within its historical materials and its description of life in ancient Israel and in the early Church, there are some references which help to shape our knowledge of marriage in those days.

In the Old Testament, there were several kinds of marriage. Matriarchal marriage assumed the authority of the mother and involved the children remaining under the mother’s control. In these circumstances, the husband perhaps settled in the mother-in-law’s home. The marriages of Jacob and Moses may be of this sort. Patriarchal marriage assumed the authority of the father and the line of descent was determined through the father. Wives, in this view of marriage, may have been considered property, and the children are identified with the father rather than with the mother. Jeremiah, for example, cites wives among the kinds of property which an invader might seize. Polygamy, another form of marriage involved a man having many wives. Sarah’s offering of Hagar to her husband Abraham can be viewed as a proposal of such marriage. Jacob’s marriage to Leah and Rachel is an even clearer example of polygamy. The marriage of Elkanah to Peninnah and Hannah (I Samuel 1) illustrates polygamy for assuring progeny. Polygamy served the purpose of assuring many children, especially sons, and the diplomatic purpose of aiding foreign alliances. Monogamy was also practiced, and, for example, the book of Proverbs seems to exalt this kind of marriage as a part of living the good life. Genesis clearly suggests that the first marriage was monogamous, for obvious reasons.

By the time of the New Testament writings, it appears that monogamy was the model upheld as the norm within the first century Christian community. The instructions given in the First Letter to Timothy make it clear that monogamy was the honorable standard for marriage for those who would serve in roles of leadership. Therefore, one can infer from the example of the leadership that monogamy was the preferred model for Christian marriage.

Biblical writers drew upon various aspects of their common experiences to communicate their message about God. The experience of marriage was a common metaphor for speaking of God. The Book of Isaiah, for example, speaks of the relationship of God to Israel in exile using the metaphor of a husband returning in compassion to an abandoned wife. The joy and merriment of a wedding feast was contrasted by Jeremiah to the immanent destruction of Israel for her faithlessness. The garments of salvation were described as being like wedding attire in Isaiah. The kingdom of heaven was described by Matthew as being like a wedding feast.

St. Paul used marriage to convey the relationship between Christ and the Church. In Second Corinthians, he compares the Church to a bride betrothed to a redeemer who loves her and cherishes her. Trying to speak of the proper relationship of husband to wife, the apostle stated that Christ is the head of the Church in the same way that a husband is the head of a wife. This analogy implied more than mere power over her, as Christ loved the Church and tenderly nourished and cherished it. The author of Revelation proclaimed the vision of the end of time in which the marriage of the lamb and his bride was about to be consummated.

Marriage was essential for sustaining the family name, for producing progeny, and for sustaining the family. Nearly everyone married; there were widows, but few spinsters. Celibacy was confined most often to those who had been injured and were thereby unable to function sexually, or to those who had become eunuchs by either accident or design. However, celibacy was also understood as a matter of vocation. For example, Jeremiah was forbidden by God to marry as an acted parable of the coming destruction of Jerusalem. Furthermore, Matthew cites Jesus as saying that there are those “who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:12).

Beyond the functions of reproduction and social stability, there is little reference to the personal delight in sexuality. Paul suggests that such passions were better controlled in marriage, and that mutual satisfaction was important. The Song of Songs fully explores the delights of these aspects of the married life.

At its deepest and most profound level, scripture reveals marriage to be a personal, sexual, and spiritual covenant ordained and instituted by God, confined and perhaps distorted by the cultural assumptions of the day, but, nevertheless, revelatory of a God who is both the creator and redeemer of humanity.

Further Theological Perspectives

The Prayer Book defines Holy Matrimony as Christian marriage in which the woman and man enter into a life-long union, make their vows before God and the Church, and receive the grace and blessing of God to help them to fulfill their vows (BCP p.861). A covenant of love is the foundation of this statement.

Covenant is the overarching theological principal of Christian marriage from which other characteristics and attributes are derived. Its roots are deeply embedded in the Hebrew Scriptures which present marriage as a symbol of the Covenant between Yahweh and Israel (Hosea 2; Isaiah 54:4-5; and Jeremiah 2:2, 3:20). The New Testament, as well as post-apostolic writers, down to our time, further develop this idea along with its implications.

The author of Ephesians speaks of marriage as a union based on that of Christ with the Church, who loves it and gives himself for it, thus echoing the Old Testament teaching of covenant. Spouses are instructed to “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” St. Augustine in his The Good Marriage taught that marriage has three values: fidelity, offspring, and covenant. Theodoret of Cyrrhus, the intellectual leader of the Antiochene school in the fifth century, went further to say that marriage is a deliberate provision of God for the development and well-being of humankind. He states that through their union the work of the Creator is perpetuated. Theodoret stresses the idea of the unity of two persons in marriage and the mutual love involved, as well as pointing out the procreative purpose of marriage within God’s work of creation. Thus Theodoret emphasizes the loving nature of God and belief in our potentiality.

John Duns Scotus (d. 1308) was the first theologian to articulate the sacramental theology that the minister of the sacrament was not the priest, but the couple getting married. With such a view, the bride administers the sacrament of marriage to the groom, the groom administers the sacrament of marriage to the bride. The clergy witness and bless this union in the presence of the community.

One attribute of the marriage as a covenental union is that it stands as a witness to the presence and activity of God within the community. It is a sign of the Kingdom existing to bear witness to the Incarnation. Of course, there must be growth in married love in order to bring the sacrament of marriage to its full realization. To that end, not only is the couple responsible for tending and nurturing their relationship, but also the believing Community is called to be supportive of the marriage, as well. Holy Matrimony, then, includes an ecclesiology that suggests intentional on-going participation of the Faith Community with the couple and an on-going responsibility of the couple to the Community.

Most of all, Christian marriage assumes allegiance to God, which for Episcopalians is expressed through the Baptismal Covenant. Marriage becomes the most intimate environment for the vows of the Covenant to be realized: to express by word and example the good news of God, to seek and serve Christ in another, loving this most intimate of neighbors as one’s self, and to strive for justice and peace in this particular relationship. Marriage may be seen as the place from which the benefits of living in a God-centered covenanted community can be shared with others, beginning first at home and then spreading abroad into the extended community. The Book of Common Prayer understands marriage to be more than a biological and juridical union. The spirituality proper to marriage is a relational one, emphasizing love of neighbor, where the role of neighbor is taken by the spouse.

History of Christian marriage rites

Until the early middle ages the marriage rite was primarily a secular activity which the Church might recognize and bless. In the centuries following the Constantinian settlement, many secular functions came to be transferred to ecclesiastical jurisdiction, including, in some cases, responsibility for marriage, though the Church’s regulations on marriage were often stricter than those of the society in which it functioned. Second marriages (after the death of a spouse) were generally frowned upon if not forbidden (a tradition that remained in force in the East); marriage within certain degrees of blood or legal relationship were disallowed; divorce was not permitted except in the case of adultery (only the innocent partner being allowed to remarry and, that, only rarely). A significant Roman civil restriction on marriage which the church set aside was the prohibition on marriage between slave and free persons.

Under Roman civil law, consent to marriage was the crucial requirement for validity, and the various rituals of betrothal, dowry, procession of the bridal party to the groom’s house, and the wedding feast served to make a public display of this consent. Similarly, Jewish wedding ceremonies included public acknowledgment of the marital contract. In this early period the marriage rite was understood primarily as a legal contract or property transaction. The custom of giving the bride (now optional in the prayer book, page 437) derives from this tradition, in which a woman was publicly transferred from the custody of her father to that of her husband.

The Constantinian church adopted the betrothal and wedding rites of the Roman world. While the form of marriage liturgy was a matter of local option, by the fifth century it regularly included (but did not require) a priestly nuptial blessing on the couple, or more commonly on the bride alone. This blessing could be bestowed at the marriage bed (a Gallican custom) or at the church door (an Italian form), and only rarely inside the church itself. The Eastern Church pronounced a blessing at the time of betrothal rather than marriage.

Although such nuptial or bridal blessings were normal, they did not “make” the marriage–which was effected by the consent and vows of the couple acting as the ministers of the rite, or (according to the canonist Hincmar arguing contrary to Ivo of Chartres) through physical consummation of the marriage. By 1100, the priestly blessing was becoming more normative (though still not required for legal validity). This blessing was often still imparted in the couple’s home rather than in church, and sometimes the bride alone received the blessing. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) required publication of banns, but it was not until the 16th century Council of Trent that Roman Catholic marriage was held to be invalid unless performed in the presence of the parish priest, to whom at least one of the parties had to be known, and who blessed the couple and declared them married. The same has been true in England, by custom from before the Reformation and legally since the 18th century, when valid church marriage (with certain rare exceptions) was required to take place in the parish church after publication of banns.

While Roman Catholic law requires both parties in a marriage to be baptized, the Episcopal church requires this of only one. Spencer Erwin in An Introduction to Anglican Polity, refers to this Episcopal practice as “an indefensible anomaly.” However, Daniel Stevick, in his Canon Law: A Handbook, notes: “The Episcopal Church’s untidy legislation on marital matters may displease those who, on some doctrinaire basis, want formal consistency. But Anglicanism likes to think that such legal arrangements are equal to the variousness, the contradictions, and the human realities of life in an untidy world.” Certain features of the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage (prayer book, 422ff), including the eucharistic context and much of the explicitly Christ-centered language, render it less than suitable for an interfaith marriage; in this case the Order for Marriage (prayer book, 435) offers scope for adaptation to the pastoral needs of the couple.

The general form for the Christian marriage rite from the late middle ages consisted of an exhortation describing the ends and goods of marriage, a declaration of consent and an exchange of vows (with exchange of rings–though this became a bone of contention at the Reformation, and provision is now made for an alternative symbol, prayer book, 437), and a nuptial blessing. This basic form has remained intact ever since, though adapted to various situations (as in the blessing of a civil marriage, in which the church does not act as the civil authority).

Who should be married in this Church?

Canon law requires that at least one member of the couple seeking the celebration and blessing of a marriage must be baptized. This is the minimal requirement for marriage in this Church. However, we would urge that clergy consider development of standards which reach beyond this minimal approach and which express a deeper understanding of the nature of the Church, its sacraments and other rites.

The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage is an expression of Christian community. The Catechism (prayer book, page 861) declares that in marriage, a couple makes their vows before God and the Church, and the priest blesses a marriage on behalf of the Church. The corporate basis of marriage is recognized by the liturgy in which the congregation is asked for their support of the couple in their common life, (prayer book, page 425). Indeed, marriage draws a substantial, traditional part of its meaning from the relationship between Christ and his Church.

These theological positions suggest that the situation envisioned by the Church is one in which baptized, active, committed members of this Church come together before the Church to be married. Having said that, we are aware that our current cultural situation and pastoral realities often present quite different situations to which the Church wishes to respond. Committed members of our congregations marry those outside our traditions. Episcopalians have family members who, while having no particular religious commitments themselves, wish to marry in our Church for sentimental or familial reasons. Persons in the neighborhoods in which we minister may approach the Church for the celebration and blessing of their marriages. Each such situation demands its own response, and it is difficult to lay down useful general rules.

The one general principle we suggest as a standard for these pastoral situations is this: The Church should attempt to encourage the celebration and blessing of marriages in which there is the best opportunity of reaching the theological principle outlined above. We should encourage marriages in which there is the strongest possibility of persons becoming active, committed members of this Church. This standard may be applied in many ways. Some clergy require applicants for marriage to attend the parish for a certain period of time. Some clergy may ask them to take inquirers’ classes and express some commitment to the parish such as a pledge of financial support. Sometimes it may be useful, when celebrating and blessing the marriage of someone who lives in another city, to insure that the couple is introduced to an Episcopal parish in the city in which they plan to reside after their marriage. Many clergy use the premarital counseling required by canon law to urge upon the couple the establishment of some connection to the parish Church.

The parish can be made aware of those who are seeking the Church’s blessing of their marriages in several ways. The ancient custom of asking the banns of marriage (Prayer Book, page 437) serves this purpose. It is appropriate to ask the prayers of the people for the couple at Eucharists during the several weeks before the marriage, and their thanksgivings for a few weeks afterwards. Clergy may wish to encourage couples to leave an appropriate portion of their wedding flowers in the church for the following Sunday’s Eucharists and to recognize that gift in the Sunday service leaflet.

In determining who should be married in this Church, it may also be suitable for the clergy to inquire, in the premarital counseling, about the status and welfare of any children that the couple may have from previous relationships.

We suggest that clergy be very clear with those outside the parish that they must not announce a date for a marriage in our Church until the couple has met with the priest and the suitability of the celebration of the marriage has been determined.

Place and Ministers of Marriage

Normally, the clergy of the parish preside at the celebration of marriages in the parish. A couple who wishes the ministrations of a cleric from outside the parish must obtain the consent of the ecclesiastical authority of the parish–the rector, interim priest in charge, or churchwardens.

We discourage weddings outside of the church because it tends to diminish the role of the Church in celebrating the marriage, because the Church’s rules and traditions are harder to enforce outside of the church, and because the logistics are more difficult. For example, prayer books are not conveniently available outside the church building. At a deeper level, having a wedding in a church asserts the importance of the community in Christian marriage.

When marriages take place outside the church building, the issue of venue and parish boundaries should be considered. Canon law (1994: Title III, 4 a [1]) requires that such marriages be celebrated with the consent of the ecclesiastical authority of the parish and recorded in its register.

The Book of Common Prayer prescribes certain roles for the deacon in the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage. The Bishop of New York has forbidden deacons to act as the celebrant at marriage. The deacon reads the gospel and performs the normal diaconal ministry in the Eucharist which may follow the marriage. In addition, the deacon may be asked to preach a homily and/or lead the prayers for the couple on pages 429-30.

Seasons for Marriages

Traditionally marriages were not celebrated in Advent and in Lent because these were penitential seasons during which times festal liturgies, such as weddings, were not appropriate. Advance planning can take into account the Church’s traditions, and if it doesn’t, it may mean that the couple has no intent to respect those traditions. That alone may be good reason to decline to celebrate the marriage.

We would suggest that weddings during Advent or Lent should only happen in the case of serious, pressing, compelling pastoral need. For example, a great aunt’s plan to visit from a distant state during Advent or Lent would not constitute such a need.

Banns and Notices

The form for announcing the banns of marriage is given in the Prayer Book, on page 437. The banns are an English custom requiring notice of marriage to be made on three Sundays or Holy Days before the marriage took place. The civil marriage license originated as a dispensation from the publication of banns; however, there is no reason why banns cannot continue to be published in some appropriate form.

Before and immediately after a marriage, it is also appropriate to include the names of the couple in the prayers of the people at the Eucharist.

Interfaith Marriages

It is the desire of the Bishop of New York that interfaith marriages be celebrated using the rite called An Order for Marriage in the Book of Common Prayer on page 435. Such celebrations are, by their nature, very individualistic and must be, in most cases, tailored to the particular occasion, the pastoral needs of those involved, and the teaching and practice of the Episcopal Church. We encourage careful, detailed, and thoughtful advance planning for such liturgies. Clergy should be aware that in cases where a Christian marries a Muslim, there may be severe restrictions upon the Christian nurture of children.

The rite prescribes the things which must happen and the order in which they are to take place. The vows must be exchanged using either of the two forms on page 436, the second of which is a duplication of the vows in the Book of Common Prayer, 1928. These vows must not be altered in any way. The celebrant must declare the union of husband and wife in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and a nuptial blessing must be given.

Anglican-Roman Catholic Marriages

The Episcopal Diocese of New York and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York have agreed on the manner of celebrating Roman-Anglican marriages. This information is contained in a document entitled the Anglican-Roman Catholic Joint Statement on Marriage, pages 7-8. The liturgy to be used is outlined on page 8. The whole document is contained in the Purple Book in section F, Pastoral Ministrations. It is, under no circumstances, permissible to attempt to “re-baptize” a Christian already baptized with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit for the purposes of facilitating a marriage in another Christian tradition. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church share common faith in the permanence of a non-repeatable Baptism.

Wedding Ceremonial

We recommend, even for parishes with the simplest liturgical traditions, that a wedding customary be developed. This will make rehearsals easier, facilitate dealing with difficult family or wedding party members, and draw wedding liturgical practices more into the full context of the parish’s liturgical life. In developing such a ceremonial, we urge that the clergy and other ministers assisting in this endeavor make every effort to distinguish between important liturgical practices and social conventions which are firmly planted in cultural tradition but which have no real theological significance. A strict policy about the former and, perhaps, a more tolerant and flexible policy about the latter may be the best way to proceed. As an example, there are probably many ways of entering the church for the opening procession and it would be difficult definitively to say that one way is better than another. A young couple, celebrating their first marriage, may wish an elaborate procession with many bridesmaids and other attendants. An older couple undertaking a second marriage may desire something much simpler. On the other hand, a request to alter the marriage vows or to substitute different words for God should be met with a clear and firm statement about why we do not alter those portions of the liturgy which are set down in the Book of Common Prayer.

In thinking about wedding ceremonial, those making the plans might consider these points: What sort of entrance procession seems to work best in our building and what kind of options might we offer? To which place in the church should the opening procession lead? This should be a place of maximum visibility and audibility. Where should we have the man and the woman sit during the ministry of the word? Do you wish to encourage wedding homilies, and, if so, what resources can support you in your homiletic preparation? Where should the rest of the bridal party sit? Sometimes the man and the woman can sit in the sanctuary itself and the rest of the bridal party in the first pew on each side of the center aisle, but this will vary with local architecture. Where should they return for the vows? To the place where the service began, or at a place closer to the altar? How should lay ministers be used in the liturgy? Is there a role for acolytes or servers? On what occasions should the nuptial eucharist be encouraged? Lay ministers will certainly be needed in these occasions. How should the retiring procession be organized and where should it go? Some places direct the retiring processions out the long way, dropping the couple off at the rear of the church to greet their friends, others take everyone out to some other location and then reassemble for pictures.

Generally speaking a rehearsal is necessary for all but the simplest weddings because it makes the ceremonial go more smoothly and enables the participants, as far as is possible, to be relaxed about what they are doing. Having a fully attended rehearsal may, we are aware, entail complicated scheduling and even additional travel and accommodation costs. We are convinced that this extra effort is worth making. Often, people are unfamiliar with Episcopal practices, and in many cases, with Christianity in any form, and need careful instructions about how to do the readings, distribute the leaflets, answer questions, and take the other roles assigned to them in what may be a complicated and mystifying ritual.

Conducting a rehearsal

The cleric must insure that the marriage license is brought to the rehearsal, and may wish to have the rings present, too. In some places, the rings and the license are kept in the church overnight in the parish safe.

Those present should include the bride, groom, celebrant, best man, maid/matron of honor, bridesmaids, ushers or groomsmen, ring bearer and flower girl (if they are to be used), readers of lessons, and those presenting the bride and the groom for marriage (if this custom is to be observed.) The attendants and the presenters of the couple may be either male or female.

While many clergy have the bride, the groom and the witnesses sign the canonical register, the marriage license, and the souvenir booklet at the rehearsal, clergy should be aware that they are certifying things which have not yet happened. And, in fact, signing the marriage license before the wedding is, technically, a violation of New York state law. It is probably better to complete the register, except for the signatures, at the rehearsal and obtain the signature immediately following the liturgy and before the picture-taking and the reception. It is the custom in some places to have the register signed during the liturgy; if this is to happen, we suggest that it occur during the offertory of the eucharist, or, if a eucharist is not to be celebrated, following the Peace.

Beginning the rehearsal with a prayer for the couple (one appears inside the souvenir book) can set the proper tone for the rehearsal which follows.

Place the members of the wedding party in the position they will occupy at the front of the church at the beginning of the liturgy. Have the mothers go to their pews, generally the mother of the bride on the left side facing the altar, and the mother of the groom on the right. Generally outline the structure of the service and explain that you will go through it in more detail momentarily.

Then, have the wedding party go to the place where the procession will form. Line up the procession for the entrance. Then go through the procession, beginning with the seating of the mothers, and conclude with the wedding party lined up at the step.

Then go through the service entirely, explaining that instructions will be quietly given to those who make simple mistakes and that there is nothing which happens which cannot be easily corrected.

Warn the ushers to arrive one hour before the wedding because they may be needed for last minute errands as well as for ushering. Explain to them that they are to distribute the service leaflets (if leaflets are prepared) and to seat persons in the nave (perhaps according to whether they are friends or family of the bride [left side] or the groom [right side]).

Warn the rest of the wedding party to be present at least 30 minutes before the liturgy is to begin.

Do not rehearse more than one way of doing any part of the service. To do so can cause confusion at the time of the wedding as people struggle to recall which of several options was decided upon.

A Simple Wedding Ceremonial


A hymn, psalm or anthem may be sung or instrumental music may be played at the entrance of the wedding party. The procession could include incense, cross, torches, perhaps a choir, clergy, groomsmen, best man, groom (perhaps accompanied by a presenter) bridesmaids, maid of honor, bride (perhaps accompanied by a presenter). Or the bride and groom may wish to enter together at the end of the procession. When all are in place, the bridal party is standing at the step, in this order, from left to right, as they would be seen by the officiating cleric: Groomsmen, best man (perhaps with ring bearer), groom, (person presenting the groom), (person presenting the bride), bride, maid of honor (perhaps with flower girl) and bridesmaids.

This procession is, we are aware, something of an innovation. Many places still have the bridal party alone entering in procession, with the groom, attendants and clergy slipping in by a side entrance. We would argue in favor of everyone coming in together, as outlined above. This ceremonial is a strong reminder of the equality of men and women in the covenant of marriage. It resembles more clearly the normal eucharistic liturgy, which we believe should set the ceremonial standard for weddings. It dispenses with the superstition about the bride and groom not seeing each other before the liturgy begins and Christianity should always discourage the role of superstition.

Alternately, it may be possible to have the bride process down one side aisle and the groom down the other, meeting at the rear of the church and coming up the center aisle together.

The people should stand as the procession enters the church. Because there may be many visitors unfamiliar with Episcopal liturgy, and because weddings are not attended frequently in most people’s experience, having a service leaflet which outlines the parts of the service and gives cues as to sitting, standing, or kneeling may be helpful.

Depending on the church architecture, the organist may need some sort of signal as to when to stop the processional music.

If incense is used in the procession, it should lead the procession into the church and the celebrant might cense the altar as at a usual celebration of the Eucharist. It might be suitable, following the censing of the altar, to cense the couple, too.

The Exhortation

This is addressed to the congregation by the celebrant and the full names of the man and the woman are used here, their Christian names thereafter. At the rehearsal, it may be wise to remind those present that the moment for offering objections is a liturgical reminder of a time when the Church had full responsibility for all manner of civil records and is not a time for practical jokes. In the unlikely event that an objection is raised, we recommend it be handled in this way: The celebrant should send the bridal party to the seats they will occupy during the ministry of the word, call forward the objector, invite him or her into a nearby private room, and ask the organist to play a piece of music. The celebrant should then ask the nature of the objection. If there is a reason why the marriage should not take place, such as previous undissolved marriages, mistaken identity, or fraud, the celebrant should return to the church, explain the recent discovery, and dismiss the congregation. If there is no reason to defer the marriage, the celebrant should return (perhaps with the objector) to the church, announce that there is no valid objection, pause a moment for recollection and prayer, reassemble the bridal party and continue.

The Charge

This is addressed to the couple and read by the celebrant.

The Declaration of Consent

This must be asked by the celebrant, using only the Christian names of the couple. At the rehearsal, it is necessary to go over this carefully so that the response is made at the very end of the question and that the correct response, “I will” is made. However, it is neither necessary nor kind to make a person who offers a nervous “Yes” or other response to make the correct response.

Presentation or Giving in Marriage

This is optional, reflecting the desire of the Church both to honor tradition and acknowledge the changing role of women in society. If there is to be a presentation in marriage, it may be better to have both the man and the woman presented in marriage. At the conclusion of the presentation in marriage, the person presenting may place the man’s or woman’s hand in the hand of the other, or the priest may do this. Those presenting the man, the woman or both, then should return to places in the congregation after saying “I do.”

Hymn, Psalm or Anthem

The purpose of the music suggested here is to cover the movement of the bridal party to the places where they will sit for the ministry of the word. At the rehearsal, it is important to remind the bridal party that they are to go to these places, but are to remain standing, because a prayer is to follow.

The Salutation and Collect

All remain standing. At the rehearsal, it may be helpful to ask everyone to remember to say (or sing) a strong “Amen” after the collect.

The Word of God

Readings at a wedding are drawn only from the Bible. Fifteen readings are suggested, from which the couple will choose three. Poetry, devotional readings, or philosophy are fine things in their own right, but many of them are not Christian. Because Christian marriage is based upon God’s sacred covenant, and the stories from that covenant shape and inform our belief about marriage, we read only from the books of that covenant when we gather to celebrate a Christian marriage. The ministry of the word should look something like the normal proclamation of the Word of God at a Sunday Eucharist. Provision has been made for a full series of readings: Old Testament lesson, gradual psalm, New Testament lesson, alleluia, sequence and Gospel. It is desirable for a qualified member of the wedding party or a relative or friend to read the readings which precede the gospel. These persons should be chosen not only for their intimacy to the family, but also for their ability to read in public. Trained lectors accustomed to reading in church, actors, teachers, and others who regularly speak in public are the sorts of persons who might be asked to perform this ministry with good result. They must attend the rehearsal, see the readings in advance, be familiar with the layout and structure of the book from which they will be read, and be coached by the celebrant.

As we have indicated above, the wedding party will normally be seated in some convenient location. In cases where restrictive clothing prevents easy sitting, the wedding party might stand to one side during the ministry of the word, although this potentially confusing practice should be undertaken only as a less desirable alternative.

The Vows

The wedding party or just the man and woman with the best man and the maid of honor, now return either to the places where they began, or to a place closer to the altar. The woman now gives her bouquet to her attendant, perhaps prompted by the celebrant. The man and the woman now face each other. The man should now take the woman’s right hand, and prompted by the priest in very short phrases, says the vow. Then the couple loose their hands. The woman should now take the man’s right hand and, prompted by the priest in very short phrases, says the vow. The occasional request from a couple to recite these vows from memory should be firmly refused. Even the most sanguine couple finds this moment so filled with emotion that memory cannot be relied upon.

At these and other points in the liturgy where the priest must use the names of the couple, we recommend that the names be written upon temporary adhesive tags and placed in the prayerbook to avoid embarrassing lapses of clerical memory.

The Rings

The blessing of the rings may happen in one of several ways. In any event, the rings should not be entrusted to a small child designated as a ring bearer. This is an invitation to disaster. The best man should have both rings or the maid of honor should have one and the best man the other. The former is probably simpler. The priest may extend the service book to the best man and receive the rings upon it for blessing, or an acolyte may come forward with a small bowl and receive them. This latter practice is probably better if they are to be sprinkled with baptismal water. The priest says the prayer blessing the rings, perhaps making the sign of the cross over them (and may sprinkle them with water). Then the priest extends the book or bowl to the man so that he can take the ring and place it on the third finger of the woman’s left hand. Prompted in very short phrases by the priest the man says the sentence beginning “N., I give you this ring…” The priest then follows the same procedure for the woman if she is to present a ring to the man. Note that provision is made for substitution of “God” for the name of the Trinity in cases where this is pastorally appropriate.

The rubrics allow other items to be presented in lieu of rings. We would argue that in most cases rings still remain the best symbols of the permanent covenant of marriage because they are lasting symbols capable of being worn at virtually all times. If other symbols simply must be substituted, we suggest that they be gifts of lasting quality and frequent use. Careful thought and pastoral sensitivity may help people to make the right decisions about the best symbols.

Proclamation of Marriage

The priest then places a hand over the right hands of the couple and joins them. The custom of wrapping the stole around the couples’ joined hands, a custom of late Baroque origin, though unnecessary and somewhat fussy, is followed in some places.

The Prayers

The celebrant bids the prayers. The Lord’s Prayer follows here if there is not to be a nuptial eucharist (if there is a eucharist, the Lord’s Prayer takes its usual place following the Eucharistic Prayer) and if it is to be omitted here, it may be useful for the celebrant to cover the prayer with a temporary adhesive note to insure that it is omitted. The prayers may be read by the priest, a deacon, or a lay person. A member of the wedding party or congregation might read them if such a person is skilled at reading and is moved to a place where the prayers can be heard clearly. At the rehearsal, the wedding party should be taught to say the “Amens” after each of the prayers, and to join in the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. The petition for the gift and heritage of children may be omitted in cases where the couple has requested it and in which childbirth seems a remote possibility.

The Blessing of the Marriage

Depending on the architecture of the church, the couple may now move to a position nearer the altar (if they haven’t done so already). In some churches, this may entail the priest’s moving inside the altar rails and the couple’s kneeling before the priest. If there is a rail with a gate, an acolyte might close the gates after the priest has entered the sanctuary. However this takes place, the priest then faces the couple, invites them to kneel, and gives them the blessing perhaps with the sign of the cross, perhaps with hands extended over the couple.

If the woman is wearing a veil, she now removes it from her face, a movement probably best done by herself alone, since the maid of honor is often encumbered with two bouquets of flowers now. The couple now stands.

The Peace

The priest says the Peace, and the couple kiss each other. The couple should greet other members of the wedding party, their parents, and perhaps a few other members of the congregation. Just how much greeting is to be done should be announced at the rehearsal. We suggest strongly that the Peace not be confused with the reception to occur later. A few people might be greeted; however, extensive exchange of the Peace at this point will unduly lengthen the liturgy and make the Peace occupy a disproportionate position in the liturgy.

The Eucharist

If the Eucharist is to follow, the couple now moves either to a place in the sanctuary or chancel, or, perhaps, to a place in one of the front pews. The husband and wife may present the bread and the wine at the altar. Before the presentation of the gifts, the priest may wish to explain the communion policies of the Church and how communion is administered in the parish. Such explanations may also appear in the service leaflet.

Rite I or Rite II may be used. Eucharistic Prayer D, which may only be used in Rite II, allows for a particular reference to the occasion being celebrated and allows for other intercessory prayers. A proper preface is provided for Eucharistic Prayer A or B, and a special Postcommunion Prayer is provided.

Retiring Procession

The wedding party leaves the church in this order: Acolytes and clergy, husband and wife, and then maid of honor and best man, and finally, the other attendants. Members of the families seated in the first pews might follow the procession and, if desired, ushers might escort parents or other members of the families.

After the Liturgy

The priest and the witnesses might sign the register and license if that has not been done before (see above), or alternatively, the witnesses and the priest might sign the register before the congregation after the proclamation of the marriage or after the blessing of the marriage.

Music at Weddings

For many years, the typical outline of wedding music consisted of a prelude and a postlude, two processionals, and perhaps a wedding solo. In this way, a veneer of music was applied to the Prayer Book liturgy as if music were not an integral part of the liturgy. We would suggest a different approach, one which may take considerable time to implement because of the residue of dubious tradition which naturally adheres to liturgies like weddings. The general approach we recommend is this: consider the wedding service to be a part of the regular liturgical life of the parish and celebrate it with music in the way that the normal Sunday liturgy is celebrated.

This approach means, in the first instance, that we treat as music those parts of the liturgy which are, by their very nature, songs. Following this approach, the gradual psalm (and perhaps the alleluia verse before the gospel) should be sung. If the Holy Eucharist is to be celebrated, the Sanctus, Fraction Anthem, and perhaps the Lord’s Prayer should be sung as well. However, complex or solo settings of the Lord’s Prayer deprive the congregation of participating in the singing of this important part of the liturgy. We recommend that something very close to the music customary at the principal eucharist on Sunday be followed; i.e., if the Sanctus is sung on Sundays, it should be sung at the wedding. Including music in this way may necessitate reprinting music in the leaflet in order to make it easily available to those attending.

Secondly, this means encouraging, where appropriate, hymnody. Such a decision will probably be based upon the nature of the congregation planning to attend. If a great many Episcopalians are expected, the singing may be lusty and encouraging. If it is a wedding where the guests are non-Christians, hymn singing may turn into a relatively desolate exercise. Again, the providing of a small booklet containing all the music for the service would be ultimately helpful; however, permission to reprint copyright material must be secured.

In the third instance, this may mean rethinking some of the so-called “traditional” wedding music. Clergy should remember that even at weddings, they are required to follow the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer which requires that anthems and congregational music conform to scripture or the texts of the prayer book. Hymns, too, are to be those authorized by this Church–that is, songs included in the Hymnal 1982; Lift Every Voice, Wonder, Love, and Praise (a supplement to the Hymnal 1982); and the other collections of music which this Church has determined meet our standards for musical quality and theological accuracy.

Inevitably, this brings us to the matter of the wedding march from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Mendelssohn or the “Bridal Chorus” from Wagner’s Lohengrin. The weight of secular custom behind these two pieces of music is so immense that we are aware our disapproving note may not be well-received. Clergy should consider, however, that neither of these pieces is, properly considered, sacred music. They are drawn from operatic contexts which are neither appropriate nor encouraging. The Mendelssohn piece occurs at the “wedding” of an ox to an ass, and the Wagner piece precedes the tragic death of the bride who has been unfaithful to her husband. If clergy decide to discourage their use, and we hope they will, it may be necessary to implement such a policy over a long time and in the face of considerable popular opposition.

There is much finer music suitable for weddings than these two pieces. We provide, in this document, a listing of such pieces. There is also a wedding guide book published by Martha Stewart. While we do not endorse the wedding practices contained in that text, the Compact Disc associated with it includes virtually every piece of wedding music ever used, performed by Anthony Newman on the Trinity Church, New York City, pipe organ. This may be a useful guide for couples planning their weddings. We also encourage the clergy to require the couple to meet with the Church musician to determine his or her best recommendations for musical selections.

Occasionally, the clergy and musicians will receive requests for secular music of dubious taste. When such requests are made with great enthusiasm, it is appropriate to suggest that, while the church does not allow this sort of music at the liturgy, these pieces can be performed with good effect at a reception. This policy may be a good way to dispose of requests for family members with limited musical skills who wish to honor the couple with a performance.

Many of these suggestions may take time to implement. Over a period of years, through careful education, the experience of wedding liturgies really well done, and with the development of a repertoire of music of unquestioned quality, a parish can gradually move toward a standard of wedding music and liturgy equal to that which guides the rest of the parish’s liturgical life.

General Notes on Weddings

Other rituals and ceremonies

What we have outlined above represents what we believe to be the normal and significant ritual for a Christian marriage. From time to time there will be requests for other rituals. It is impossible to address each and every one of them. The clergy should remember that they are not permitted to change the words or the order of the Prayer Book liturgy in any way. In most cases other requested rituals should be evaluated upon the basis of whether they are consistent with Christian liturgy or whether they duplicate other rituals which have already made strong symbolic statements within the liturgy.

From time to time, clergy will be asked about the “Unity Candles” ritual, in which a three branch candlestick is placed upon the altar with two candles lit. Then, following the blessing of the marriage, the couple lights the third candle with flame drawn from the other two candles. In our opinion, the practice of exchanging rings and joining hands is a much stronger symbol of unity and permanence than any modern ritual using candles.

Each parish should develop a policy about strewing rice (a secular symbol of fertility) or its modern equivalent, birdseed, over the couple as they leave the Church. We would discourage this practice because it seems superstitious. Christian tradition avoids the role of luck and superstition, and our conviction affirms that a happy and solid marriage rests upon faith in God, not the observance of superstitions of dubious origin. Clergy might also want to consider the potential for legal action arising from guests slipping and falling on strewn rice or birdseed.

Other rituals such as jumping over brooms arise from certain ethnic and cultural traditions or from superstitions. They must not be used in the liturgy, but may, in cases of compelling pastoral need, be used at a wedding reception.

Wedding Advisors

Because weddings have become major social occasions, an industry known as wedding advisors has developed. While they may be helpful to a couple in planning a reception or other social occasions associated with a wedding, they have absolutely and definitively no role whatsoever in the planning or conduct of a wedding liturgy. We suggest that they be forbidden to attend rehearsals and under no circumstances may questions about the liturgy be referred to them. The clergy of our church are the only wedding advisors we recognize. See also the section on church decoration on page 18 of this document.


Each parish will develop its own rules about photography, either still photos or video, but we think that there is good reason to follow the once-customary rule prohibiting all photography. Even the most professional photographers are intrusive. We prefer that all guests concentrate upon participating in the liturgy and praying for the couple rather than upon anticipating the next photo opportunity.

As a gesture to the couple, the clergy and acolytes may remain after the liturgy for restaging any of the moments in the liturgy of which photographs may be desired. Some churches are designed in such a way that a video camera operator might be secreted in a balcony from which they could tape a video record of the ceremony. Photographers should not be allowed to wander aimlessly around the church during the liturgy.


If the Eucharist is to be celebrated, the clergy should wear the vestments they customarily wear for the principal Sunday Eucharist. If the Eucharist is not to be celebrated we suggest that the officiating priest wear a cassock, surplice and stole, perhaps with a cope. Assisting clergy might wear cassock, surplice, and stole.


While most clergy are reluctant to attempt any dress code for those attending weddings, occasionally we are asked about appropriate attire. Bizarre attire does tend to upstage the real focus of the event, which should be the couple themselves, and to change the focus to peripheral issues and persons. Such guidelines may better take the form of suggestions and explanations rather than rules.

Decorations in the church

Those planning the decoration of the church for weddings must consult with the clergy who have the final authority over decorations, flowers and other appurtenances. The church is a place of Christian worship and decorations must always enhance rather than obscure the religious character of the rite and the place where it is celebrated. Decoration must be consistent with the normal customs of the parish and, while it is important to respect cultural traditions of the community, many decorations and flowers are, like some music, better suited to the reception hall than to the church.


Church Hymnal Corporation and Morehouse Publishing both publish little white souvenir books containing the marriage service, the declaration of consent, and some suitable certificates. Having a local calligrapher prepare these will create an attractive record of the marriage.


The question of fees usually concerns the cost of professional and other services provided for the preparation and performance of the wedding ceremony or blessing of a civil marriage. The following text addresses those question that arise most frequently.

Clergy fees

In the case of parochial clergy, the ministries they provide for the preparation and celebration of Holy Matrimony are part of the regular ministry provided through the congregation. This ministry would include both premarital consultations as well as the liturgical and homiletical ministries they provide at the rehearsal and celebration. In many places, however, it is customary that the couple make a donation to the cleric’s discretionary fund.

If, however, the cleric who officiates and/or preaches at the celebration is not a parochial priest, one may use the diocesan standard for supply clergy ($125.00 as of March 1997) as a guideline for compensation. It may be suitable to require that the couple pay a similar fee to any part-time or non-stipendiary clergy assisting at the wedding.

Musician’s fees

Musicians are professional ministers of the Church. Many of them work part-time or are compensated at rates that do not include extra services such as weddings. Each parish should maintain a current minimum fee schedule for musicians at weddings published by the Association of Anglican Musicians, 28 Ashton Road, Ft. Mitchell, KY, 41017, (606)344-9308 and the American Guild of Organists, 475 Riverside Drive, Suite 1260, New York, NY 10115, (212) 870-2310. This fee schedule should be strictly enforced. If a guest organist is desired, the resident organist should still be paid the standard fee because he or she is being deprived of a legitimately anticipated source of income. Singers should be those from the parish choir or professionals who are skilled and trained in church music. Not only does such a policy recognize the ministry of singers, but it also, in most cases, assures a higher standard of performance than the use of, say, family members who wish to make a gift of their talents to the couple.

Other Rites

An Order for Marriage

An Order for Marriage appears on page 435 of the Prayer Book. While clergy have permission to use this rite, we, frankly, would discourage its use in all but the most compelling and unusual pastoral circumstances. The basic order for the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage is such a rich and flexible rite that we believe it is a better liturgy. Clergy may wish to note, however, that the rubrics of the Order for Marriage and the second form of the vows can be combined in a way that allows the use of the Marriage liturgy from the 1928 Prayerbook. We also believe that this Order for Marriage could be used in interfaith situations, such as weddings between Christians and Jews or Muslims.

Renewal of Wedding Vows

The Book of Occasional Services offers a flexible liturgy for occasions, such as wedding anniversaries, when couples wish to renew their wedding vows. The rite provides a collect and suggests readings from the wedding service itself, on occasions when the Eucharist is to be celebrated at times other than the principal Eucharist on the Lord’s day. The rite also provides ways of incorporating its essential elements (renewal of vows, thanksgiving by the couple, and blessing) into the principal Sunday Eucharist.

We suggest that the essential parts of the liturgy be reprinted in the service leaflet in order that the congregation may easily follow the rite and make the appropriate responses. We also recommend that the rite, while simple, be rehearsed beforehand to assure that the participants are informed and comfortable with what they are doing. It is appropriate that the renewal of the vows, the thanksgiving by the couple, and the blessing take place at the position in the church where wedding vows are usually exchanged. Precisely the same standards outlined in this document concerning flowers, decorations, music, and fees should apply to renewal of wedding vows.

It may be advisable for the clergy to encourage the couple not to attempt too slavish a reconstruction of the original marriage situation. Duplication of the original matrimonial attire, for example, may be an idea to be discouraged.

The Book of Occasional Services suggests that this liturgy may be suitable to conclude a period of matrimonial stress with a note of reconciliation.