I’ve attended a lot of wedding ceremonies at Chase Court, the wedding venue I own in Baltimore. Hundreds of them. Some have been magnificent. Many have been unremarkable. And some have been deeply, tears-in-my-eyes, moving.

What makes the difference between forgettable and memorable? That’s easy to answer. It’s really very simple. Thorough, thoughtful planning, and superb execution.

Your wedding ceremony coalesces all that you believe about marriage as a state of being. It is a public celebration, in words and actions, of your intentions for your marriage. It is a sacred ceremony, with sacred in this case meaning highly valued, important, and entitled to reverence and respect. It is a spiritual, emotional, and physical experience for you and your beloved.

There is a lot to know about planning a great wedding ceremony. I’m going to give you the basic, time-tested framework. Every other element that you might add to the ceremony relates to one or more of these five.

The five core elements in this structure, in order of their appearance in the ceremony, are the Declaration of Intent, the Readings, the Exchange of Vows, the Exchange of Rings, the Kiss, and the Pronouncement of Marriage. These five elements are what make it a wedding. Here’s what they all mean:

The Declaration of Intent is a statement indicating your consent to enter into a marriage with your beloved. The officiant speaks the words to each of you separately, and each of you respond in turn with, “I do.”

The Readings are words taken from whatever sources you like that describe what you believe about marriage. Readings help set the tone for your marriage. They tell the people who will be supporting and nurturing you throughout your marriage –  that is, your guests –  what you believe and what you expect of each other, and of them.

The Exchange of Vows are the promises that you make to each other. In their most elemental form, you are promising to be there for each other at all times, no matter what happens.

The Exchange of Rings introduces symbolism into the ceremony. The ring itself, as an unbroken form, symbolizes unbroken love. The wearing of the ring is a symbol to others that you are married.

The Kiss is rich with symbolism, evoking physical love, as well as honor, respect, and perhaps even a contractual act, as in “sealed with a kiss.”

The Pronouncement of Marriage are words spoken by the officiant that legally and spiritually declare you to be married. The specific language varies, but they serve to mark your marriage ceremony as complete and legally valid.

There are other elements that are commonly added to the wedding ceremony, including various introductions, prayers, and blessings. There are many sacred and secular rituals that you can add, including jumping the broom, handfasting, a sand ceremony, celebration of the Christian eucharist, and more. The idea is to create something special and memorable that speaks to who you are as a couple and of your intentions for your marriage.

Whether you’re creating your wedding ceremony on your own or with professional assistance (which I strongly recommend!), the internet is full of ideas and language that you can use. Either way, there is a lot to do, and many decisions to be made. Give yourself lots of time to do the research. See what resonates with you. Follow your heart.

Once you understand the purpose of each element, you can, if you like, write from scratch. I’ve heard some of the most beautiful and meaningful vows spoken by couples who took the time to listen to their hearts and to the needs and desires of their partner.

What matters is that your wedding ceremony has meaning for you, and honors and supports your new marriage. Do that well, and everyone present – including your beloved – will carry it in their hearts forever.

Next time: Dealing with Unwanted Wedding Advice.

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David Egan
David Egan
David L. Egan is the proprietor and steward of Chase Court, a wedding and event venue in downtown Baltimore. Visit Chasecourt.com, and follow ChaseCourtWeddingVenue on Instagram and Facebook.