What’s the Difference Between Celebrant, Solemniser & Officiant?

One area of wedding planning that sometimes causes confusion for newly-engaged couples is the difference between wedding celebrant, solemniser and officiant. We all know that, in order to get married, you’ll need someone who can make the marriage official, and someone who can lead your ceremony on the day, but, for various reasons, they may not be the same person. Confused? Well, that’s why we’ve created this handy guide to wedding celebrants, solemnisers and officiants. Let’s start with a very important group of people – the ones who can actually legally marry you!

Registered solemniser Rev Geraldine Bown | Photo courtesy of Rev Geraldine Bown

What Does a Wedding Solemniser Do?

A solemniser is the term given to a person licensed by the State to conduct weddings in Ireland. Only a registered solemniser can perform a legally-binding wedding ceremony in Ireland. The General Register Office maintains a Register of Solemnisers of Marriage, and anyone solemnising a civil, secular or religious marriage MUST be on the Register.

There are several types of Solemniser on the Register, categorised by their nominating body. These are:

  • Registrars (non-religious). Solemnisers with the HSE listed as their nominating body are Registrars. They work for the State and conduct civil ceremonies, AKA legally-binding, non-religious marriage ceremonies. Civil ceremonies can take place in a registry office, or Registrars can travel to perform civil ceremonies in an approved room or venue. Civil ceremonies can only take place within the office working hours of the Registrar, which is generally 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. For this reason, couples who choose to host their wedding at the weekend can’t have a civil ceremony on the day itself. For these couples, there are two options. They can have a civil ceremony in advance of their wedding, and have a non-legally-binding ceremony on the day itself, led by a friend, or other non-solemnising celebrant (or forego the non-legal ceremony on the day entirely), or, they can have another type of ceremony on their wedding day, led by another category of solemiser (see below).

Photo by Maison Pestea Photography via One Fab Day

  • Humanist celebrants (non-religious). These solemnisers are registered with the Humanist Association of Ireland, which is a secular, AKA, non-religious organisation.
  • Other secular, non-civil celebrants (non-religious). There is currently only one celebrant who is categorised as secular, but is neither a Registrar, nor a humanist celebrant. This is Dara Ó Maoildhia from the Aran Islands, and his nominating body is Aisling Árann Teoranta.
  • Leaders of religious organisations (religious). These include Roman Catholic Church, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian Church, Baptist Church, Methodist Church, Jewish Community, Islamic Community and many more.
  • Leaders of religious organisations (more spiritual than traditionally religious). Some of the religious organisations listed on the Register of Solemnisers cause confusion for couples, because they are very different to the traditional religions we’re all familiar with, for example The Spiritualist Union of Ireland, Pagan Federation Ireland, One World Ministers and Entheos Ireland. These are still categorised as religious organisations in the eyes of the State and on the Register, but the ceremonies these solemnisers perform are more spiritual in nature, can sometimes take in people of different faiths, and tend to be more committed to principles like diversity and inclusivity.

Registered solemniser Rev . Brenda O’Grady | Photo courtesy of Rev. Brenda O’Grady

What Does a Wedding Celebrant Do?

Wedding celebrant is a broad term to describe someone who leads a wedding ceremony. Not everyone who refers to themself as a wedding celebrant can legally register your marriage, however, many solemnisers who can legally register your marriage (see What Does a Wedding Solemniser Do?) refer to themselves as celebrants. There are some professional celebrants in the industry who can’t legally register marriages. Couples engage these kinds of celebrants when the legal bit will be taken care of by a solemniser, but they want someone to give their non-legal ceremony a polished feel. Seeing as there are no rules about who can lead a non-legally-binding marriage ceremony, some couples ask a close friend or family member to do this, rather than hire someone for the job. Any of these people might describe themselves as a celebrant.

Registered solemniser Karen Dempsey | Photo courtesy of Karen Dempsey

What Does a Wedding Officiant Do?

Much like wedding celebrant, wedding officiant is a broad term to describe someone who leads a wedding ceremony. Not everyone who refers to themself as a wedding officiant can legally register your marriage, however, some solemnisers who can legally register your marriage (see What Does a Wedding Solemniser Do?) refer to themselves as officiants. Officiant is sometimes used in the same way that celebrant is used (see What Does a Wedding Celebrant Do?), by people who lead ceremonies, but cannot legally register marriages.

Ready to find your celebrant? You’ll find a list of the Best Wedding Celebrants in Ireland right here!