Your vendors should play a part in your rehearsal. The following vendors should attend: your officiant, your venue coordinator or someone from the venue, and your wedding planner. Make sure all of those people can attend before you schedule, as one of them should be in charge of the rehearsal. Sometimes couples will invite their ceremony musicians to practice at the rehearsal, although it is not totally necessary.
If you do not know your officiant very well (or at all), schedule a time to meet with them before your rehearsal. An officiant can help craft the ceremony for you, or at least give you some guidance.
Rule #2: Make this a formal affair.
Everyone who is invited should receive an invitation. By sending a formal invitation, you set the mood for the event. Guests will take this a little more seriously if they get an invitation in the mail. Make sure your guests know their expected arrival time. One person running late holds everyone else up. You should also invite everyone to dinner (or a meal) afterwards as a "thank you" for being a part of your special day. Traditionally, the groom's family pays for the rehearsal dinner, although every situation is different.
If you're going to be at your reception venue, use this opportunity to do a quick walk-through, or plan a meeting with your venue coordinator to finalize details. If your wedding is in the next day or so, ask ahead of time if you can bring all of your decor to the rehearsal so you don't have to make an extra trip.
Rule #4: Prepare your items ahead of time.
Print out readings for your readers, and have the readers stand up and read during the rehearsal so they can practice. Planning on doing a sand ceremony? Bring the vases with you and practice that part of the ceremony! Having a aisle runner? Who will be in charge of this? Those people should practice rolling it out. Plan these items ahead of time to make sure there is no confusion on your big day.
If you are having a flower girl or ring bearer in your wedding, make sure they have time to practice, and don't rush them. Little ones tend to get very nervous or shy right before they walk down the aisle. Give them plenty of time to practice walking so they get used to what they will be doing. If they will be holding a sign or a basket, bring that to the rehearsal and let them carry it.
Rule #6: Make sure you are inviting the right people.
Here is who you need to invite to your rehearsal: parents, grandparents, bridesmaids, groomsmen, flower girls, ring bearers, and readers. (and your vendors mentioned in Rule #1). If someone is not playing a part in your ceremony they don't need to be invited, unless they are the guest of someone who is, or they are a parent of a little one who is involved (like a ring bearer). You can invite more people to dinner afterwards, but they do not necessarily need to be invited to the rehearsal.
Rule #7: Practice standing and walking.
Sounds silly, right? But this is what a rehearsal is for! Your bridal party should practice entering the ceremony (known as the processional) and exiting (know as the recessional). There is correct order to follow, and a correct way to stand at the altar. There is a "bride's side" and a "groom's side". For Catholic and Christian ceremonies, the bride's side is to the left and the groom's side is to the right. During the ceremony the bride should always stand to the left and the groom to the right. The opposite happens during a Jewish ceremony. This is where your officiant or wedding planner can help.
*Wedding Planner Tip: If you are having an outdoor ceremony, wear the shoes you will be wearing on your wedding day. This will give you a chance to break them in, while practicing walking in those heels!
Traditionally, grandparents and parents will walk down the aisle and there is a correct order for this. Grandparents of the groom will go first, followed by grandparents of the bride. Then the parents of the groom will walk, followed by the mother of the bride and her escort. The grooms family should be seated in the first pew to the right (groom's side) and the bride's family should be seated in the first pew to the left (bride's side). Jewish ceremonies follow a different order. Step-parents and step-grandparents should be included in the processional, although we realize every family situation is different. That decision is ultimately made by the engaged couple. Whatever you decide, make sure all parents and grandparents practice this order during your rehearsal.
Rule #9: Have your ceremony finalized before your rehearsal.
The rehearsal should just be practice for what you have already planned. You should not be making any major decisions during your rehearsal. Readings, passages, and scriptures should all be decided on ahead of time. Escorts should be decided on ahead of time. The order of your bridesmaids and groomsmen should be finalized before hand. If your ceremony lasts longer than 40 minutes, something has gone wrong. Even a rehearsal for a traditional Jewish ceremony or a full Catholic mass should not take longer than 30-40 minutes to practice. Most rehearsals take 20 minutes, once everyone has arrived. The better you plan ahead of time, the smoother your rehearsal, and ultimately your ceremony will go.
Your bridal party will play a small part in your ceremony. Make sure your Maid of Honor or Matron of Honor knows she will have to hold your bouquet, and fix your dress and veil during the ceremony. The Best Man should be in charge of the rings, which the officiant will ask for at one point during the ceremony. These are not huge responsibilities, but these people should know what their job is either before or during the rehearsal.
Most of all (and this isn't a "rule"), have fun and enjoy this time. At this point in the wedding planning process things seem crazy and stressful, but you will look back on this day with fond memories. I still have the dress I wore to my ceremony rehearsal over six years ago. It doesn't fit me anymore (it probably will never fit again after 2 kids!) but I still keep it around for sentimental reasons. It was a day, other than my wedding day, where my friends and family came together to celebrate my husband and I.
If you do get overwhelmed, reach out to your wedding planner, officiant, or venue coordinator. These people should be able to guide you on how to plan your ceremony.