Updated: May 23, 2022
During your wedding ceremony, there is a person who stands in front of you, the couple. They recite some words, you recite some words, and voila, you're married! But are you sure of all the details that go into being an officiant? Do you understand all of their responsibilities? Understanding the job description and required tasks associated with officiating a wedding can help you make the right choice when choosing an officiant.
It is ok to be confused or uncertain about this vendor. Most couples are getting married for the first time and are unfamiliar with the entire process of planning a wedding. There are the general vendors that everyone knows - wedding planner, photographer, florist, venue. The most important - and often most forgotten - vendor is the wedding officiant. Officiants are often an afterthought. It is important to me that you understand my role and how vital that role is.
What is a wedding officiant?
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an officiant as "someone (such as a priest) who officiates at a religious rite". In the past, marriage was seen as a specifically religious sacrament, even if they primarily served a practical function. In reality, outside of formal theology or beliefs, marriage is a legal contract entered into by a couple.
Another name for an officiant is celebrant. Some officiants are lay or secular people such as judges and justices-of-the-peace. Priests, ministers and other ordained persons may also be able to perform a marriage ceremony as allowed by law.
What are the legal requirements to be an officiant?
Every state has different laws on who can perform weddings. It is important to check with your local city/town clerk. For example, you must register with NYC in order to legally perform marriages. You must either be a member of the clergy or you must obtain a validation from the court. Most states accept online ordinations, such as the American Marriage Ministries. Your marriage is not legal in the eyes of the law unless you have a legitimate officiant.
The officiant needs to have at least a working knowledge of the marriage laws in their chosen service area. Some states need the couple to sign the marriage license after the ceremony, while other states just require witness signatures. Make sure you designate the witnesses prior to the ceremony and arrange from them to meet with the officiant. By doing so, your officiant will be able to sign the required documents once the ceremony is over, which will make everything go smoothly for both of you. The marriage license must be completed accurately and filed with the appropriate county clerk. You can file the license yourself, or you can request that the officiant send in the paperwork.
What will the officiant say?
If you are getting married in a formal religious setting, it is very unlikely that you will have any say in the ceremony script, other than perhaps choosing readings or poems. If, however, you are selecting your celebrant, you should be able to have your preferences considered. It is important that the officiant understands the vision of the couple so they can choose the right script together.
A professional officiant will describe all the parts of the ceremony, and work with you to craft the right tone and wording. Some have pre-written vows or can offer assistance in helping you write your own. Other offerings may include unity ceremony scripts or premarital consultations. If your officiant is a notary, they may also offer prenuptial notarization services.
Aside from working with the couple, the officiant has to work with the wedding guests, too. Making friends and family feel included is crucial. As the master of ceremonies, the celebrant is tasked with keeping people engaged and invested in the ceremony. Whether it’s giving people instructions for an unplugged ceremony or telling a lighthearted story, being a confident and entertaining speaker is vital. That being said, the minister should not make themselves the center of attention. The day is about the couple and they should always be the focus.
Do you still have questions?
Hopefully, this article helped answer some basic questions about who wedding officiants are and what they do. If you still need clarification or have a specific inquiry, book a free consultation with an officiant here at Weddings By Papermill. We'd be more than happy to help.