Most people have been to a lot of weddings, but it is always a good idea to get an etiquette refresher. The ceremony is the part of the wedding which is filled with the most tradition, and therefore ceremony etiquette is especially important. Before you plan or attend a wedding, be sure that you know all of the basic wedding ceremony etiquette.
Never Upstage the Bride. This is a key point of ceremony etiquette. It is the bride’s day to shine in her wedding gown and pearl bridal jewelry, and no guest or member of the bridal party should do anything to draw attention away from the bride. This is the origin of the ban on wedding guests wearing white to a ceremony – the color is reserved for the bride alone. Very flashy, low cut, overly fancy, or extremely casual attire should also be avoided for the same reason. And it is no fair for the sister of the bride to dye her hair fuchsia the day before the wedding to get some attention.
Never Interrupt the Processional. If a wedding is scheduled to begin at 1pm, that does not mean that guests should arrive at the church at 1pm. They should plan to be there at least 15 minutes before the ceremony begins to allow time for the ushers to seat them at to get settled in. Once the mother of the bride is seated, that is the signal that the processional is starting. Any stragglers should wait outside the church doors (or stand in the back of the church if already inside) until the bride has walked down the aisle glowing in her gown and pearl bridal jewelry. Guests should never be in the aisle at the same time as a member of the wedding party.
Silence Cell Phones. This is a new piece of etiquette that needs to be mentioned. A marriage ceremony is a solemn proceeding, and should never be interrupted by ringing cell phones. Turn off all electronic devices or better yet leave them in your car. There is also a strict taboo against using an electronic device during a wedding ceremony, even if it is quiet. This means no texting, browsing the web on your smart phone, or checking email on your Blackberry.
Respect Religious Customs. You may not share the bride and groom’s religion, but you must respect it at their wedding. This generally means following along with the ebb and flow of the ceremony in cases where it is expected that the congregation will sit or stand at certain times. It also means participating in certain customs and abstaining from others. A non-Catholic attending a Nuptial Mass, for instance, would sit or stand with the rest of the congregation, but would not do the sign of the cross with the Catholic guests. One should not take Communion if not part of the religion, but it is proper to approach the altar with arms crossed to receive a blessing, if desired (it is also perfectly acceptable to quietly remain in your seat). All guests of any faith can definitely join in the joyous shouting of “Mazel Tov!” at the end of a Jewish wedding ceremony.
Refrain From Eating or Drinking. This is another point of etiquette which used to be self-evident, but now needs to be explicitly stated. If you are hungry, snack in the car on the way to the wedding. Don’t do a Starbucks run on your way to the church. (I have actually seen entire families with paper cups of coffee in church, so this really needs to be said.) The only exception is slipping in a cough drop to quiet a cough that would be a distraction. By the way, one should never chew gum at a wedding, and that goes for the bride and groom too!