The ceremony processional, recessional, and receiving line

Often a wedding planner is hired to direct and oversee a wedding rehearsal and ceremony. To be able to effectively do this, you will need to know how a ‘typical’ ceremony flows and what is involved in the processional, recessional and receiving line.

Different religions have typical ceremonial customs, however most wedding ceremonies in the United States include the following:

  • Prelude.
  • Seating of the mothers’.
  • Processional.
  • Greeting.
  • Questions of intent.
  • Readings and music.
  • Wedding vows.
  • Exchange of rings.
  • Signing of the marriage certificate.
  • Presentation of the married couple.
  • Recessional.
  • Processional.


An example of a typical Christian or non-denominational ceremony processional is set out below. Depending on the specific religion, the officiant and/or the desires of the bride and groom, this may vary, obviously.

  • Immediately before the processional starts, the mother of the bride is escorted to her seat by one of the ushers.
  • The groom, best man, and groomsmen enter through a side door and take their place at the altar or at the front, facing the guests OR the processional music begins, and the groomsmen and best man walk down the aisle (they can either go in single-file or in pairs) followed by the groom.
  • The bridesmaids’ walk down the aisle (either in single-file or in pairs)
  • The maid of honor walks down the aisle
  • The flower girl walks down the aisle (sometimes with the ring bearer)
  • Wedding March begins, and the guests stand up
  • The bride and her father (or other escort) walk down the aisle. The guests sit down at the direction of the officiant

After the bride arrives at the front, she will let go of her father (sometimes there is a ‘giving away’ of the bride by the father and he might kiss her before sitting down with his wife). The bride will then stand beside the groom and either holds his hand or link her right arm around the groom’s left arm.

In a Roman Catholic wedding, the father will escort the bride to the altar where the groom and priest are situated, place her hand in the groom’s hand and then lift her veil and kiss her before he sits down with his wife (there is no formal ‘giving away’ in a Roman Catholic wedding).

Arrangement at front

In most cases, the officiant will be at the front facing the guests and the bride and groom and all other members of the bridal party will be facing the officiant with the bride and her attendants (including the flower girl) on the left and the groom and his attendants (including the ring bearer) on the right.

Normally, the maid of honor, with the flower girl beside her, will stand directly to the left of the bride. The other bridesmaids stand beside the flower girl. The same line-up is used for the groom and his party, with the ring bearer standing beside the best man, who is directly to the right of the groom. The other groomsmen stand beside the ring bearer. Although this is the standard way the bridal party is lined up, there are no rules dictating this arrangement.

TIP: Practice the processional and line-up at the wedding rehearsal. To assist the bridal party, you may want to use a rose petal as a marker for where each person should stand.


The recessional occurs after the ceremony ends. A typical Christian or non-denominational ceremony recessional follows this order:

  • Recessional music begins (usually upbeat, uplifting music)
  • The bride and groom walk arm in arm down the aisle
  • The maid of honor and the best man walk arm in arm down the aisle
  • The remaining bridesmaids and groomsmen pair off (one bridesmaid with one groomsman) and walk arm in arm down the aisle
  • The officiant walks down the aisle
  • The bride’s parents walk down the aisle
  • The groom’s parents walk down the aisle
  • The groomsmen return to escort guests out.

Receiving line

As soon as the ceremony is over, the guests will want an opportunity to congratulate the bride and groom. Although it’s not always done, it’s a nice touch to have a receiving line so that guests can greet the bride and groom together.

As the wedding planner, you may need to round up the bride and groom and their parents and line them up at the front of the venue, because in the excitement of the moment, this could be forgotten.

Again, it’s a good idea to discuss the receiving line at the rehearsal before the wedding, so there will be no surprises on the day.

If the couple prefers, you can arrange to have a receiving line at the venue instead.

Carley Roney’s book, referred to previously, is a great resource for information on ceremony processionals, recessionals and receiving lines for other religions:The Knot Guide to Wedding Vows and Traditions: Readings, Rituals, Music, Dances, and Toasts.

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