How to Choose Readings for Your Ceremony

From the vow exchange to the first kiss, every wedding ceremony shares a few integral moments that lead to happily ever after. But that’s not to say your ceremony needs to feel formulaic! It’s one of the most significant experiences of your life, so putting your unique mark on it will add to the momentousness of the occasion and seal it in your memories for life.

There are many ways to make your wedding ceremony feel like a celebration tailor-made for your love story. Sharing heartfelt vows, selecting meaningful songs, including pets, and incorporating rituals are all excellent opportunities to add a personal touch. But don’t overlook the power of a hand-picked reading delivered by a loved one!

“Ceremony readings are a great opportunity to really let your personalities shine,” explains Lynne Reznick of Lynne Reznick Photography. They’re also “a lovely way to include family members or dear friends who are not in your wedding party.”

So, if you want to give your grandmother, cousin, or brother-in-law a special role, you can’t go wrong by asking them to share a reading at the ceremony.

That leads to the question: How do you pick a reading that captures your shared love? While there are countless sources to draw inspiration, Orsella Hughes of Serenity Ceremonies by Rev. Orsella notes that whatever you choose “should be in alignment with your beliefs, your energy, and your intentions for the ceremony.”

Whether you want to make the room laugh out loud or bring tears to everyone’s eyes, the right readings can set the tone for your wedding and future marriage. So, as you plan your ceremony, keep these tips in mind to find the poems, verses, excerpts, quotes, or lyrics that speak to your heart.

Photography by Jocelyn Filley Photography

Incorporate your favorites

There’s no better way to personalize your wedding than by looking to your life together for inspiration. Look to your favorite authors, poets, philosophers, and musicians for ideas.

“Pull readings from the writings or speeches of people you love to listen to or read from,” suggests Brian Franklin of Vows & Speeches. “We recently wrote a ceremony script that pulled romantic lyrics from Bruce Springsteen, and have done the same with Taylor Swift and Beyonce.”

Reznick also recommends “turning to your favorite movies, songs, and books for quotes you love and that inspire you.” Perhaps it’s the movie you saw on your first date or a book you read together — relive your love story together and highlight special details that stand out to you.

Mary Angelini of Key Moment Films adds, “a reading doesn’t have to be about love at all — it can pull from a part of your history or talk about your shared personal beliefs.” So, if you have a favorite piece of scripture or literature that feels right, don’t hold back if it doesn’t seem overtly romantic. The only thing that matters is its meaningfulness to you!

Photography by Amy Sims Photography

Use an original piece

If nothing seems to resonate with you, consider opting for a reading written just for your ceremony. You’ll get to tailor the message to fit your desires, and you’ll love knowing it’s a never-before-heard reading made just for your wedding.

Plan a romantic date night with your partner to craft a passage together over dinner and wine. Or, if writing isn’t your thing, “search for local poets or writers to create a piece of literature curated for your love,” Hughes suggests. 

Alternatively, Nora Sheils of Rock Paper Coin and Bridal Bliss suggests looking to your loved ones if you know a master wordsmith. “Ask them to write a poem just for you that you can frame after the wedding,” she says. Or, for a bit of levity, “don’t be afraid to add humor by asking that light-hearted friend who knows how to keep everyone laughing!”

If you plan to hire a pro or ask a loved one, make sure to set expectations for the final result. Explain the intended message for your reading and provide specific details about what to include (and what to leave out!). It’s also wise to request with plenty of notice, allowing time to review and adjust as needed.

Photography by Pharris Photos + Films

Keep them short and sweet

It might be challenging to narrow your selections when so many lovely options are at your fingertips. But Cathy O’Connell of COJ Events assures that less is more when it comes to ceremony readings. “Two to three are plenty, although one is just fine, too,” she states.

Too many readings can impede the flow of your ceremony, leading to delays in your overall timeline and making your cocktail hour and reception feel rushed. Plus, “you risk losing guests’ attention and undercutting the meaning behind the readings you choose,” Reznick adds.

As for length, Angelini recommends keeping each reading to two minutes. “It’s typically substantial enough to convey its message but not so long that it disrupts the flow of the ceremony or causes guests to become restless,” she explains. That’s why scripture and poetry are common choices, as they are designed to express much meaning in a compact format.

Can’t bear to leave out a lengthy piece you love? “If you have one that is longer, consider doing fewer readings,” O’Connell adds.

If you’re concerned about the length of your ceremony, lean on the pros for support. Your planner and officiant can help you create a script and timeline that includes your must-haves without pushing back the rest of your wedding day. They’ll also help you stay on pace on the big day!

There is no “right” or “wrong” choice for your ceremony reading. And with unlimited options out there to choose from, you’ll no doubt find the perfect selection for your big day. “Just make sure it is relevant to your love and your commitment to each other, but most importantly, that it resonates profoundly with you,” says Juls Sharpley of Juls Sharpley Events.

And if you’ve read this far looking for recommendations for your ceremony, here are a few favorites from our wedding experts:

  • The Art of Marriage, Wilferd A. Peterson
  • 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
  • Touched by an Angel, Maya Angelou
  • Sonnet 116, William Shakespeare
  • i carry your heart with me, e.e. cummings
  • The Invitation, Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Whether you pull from old favorites or create an all-new reading, focus on the message you want to capture in your wedding ceremony. Only you and your partner will know what feels right!

Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.