The term bridesmaid dates back to the second century AD. At that time the term was ascribed to the woman who helped the bride prepare for the wedding then escorted her to the ceremony. The concept has not changed all that much since then. Perhaps the greatest difference is that these days the bride often has more than one attendant. In fact she may have as many as she likes.
Regardless of how many there are in the bridal party there is always a maid of honour or, if she is married, a matron of honour. Although assisted by the other bridesmaids the bulk of the responsibility for helping the bride before and during the big day rests on her shoulders.
One of the early responsibilities is to organize the bridal shower. This occasion leads to the next important function – that is to record first the shower gifts and subsequently the wedding gifts. The bride needs to be able to write to each person or couple thanking them for the gift and naming that gift.
In addition to helping the bride get ready for the wedding on the day and accompanying her to the ceremony the maid of honour arranges the veil and train especially before the processional and the recessional. During the ceremony and at any other appropriate time she holds the bride’s bouquet.
Another quite important function is to look after and help any child attendants. Children especially if they are fairly young quickly become bored with any activity that is not all about them. You may remember the scene from the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral where the bridesmaid was under the table with the child attendant. I don’t think you have to go that far but…
I have only given a brief overview of the many responsibilities of the maid of honour and other bridesmaids here as space doesn’t allow me to cover them all. Perhaps the most useful piece of advice I can give you if you have been asked to be bridesmaid is: this is one of the most important days in your friend’s life and she has asked you to help ensure she gets the very most she can out of it. Respond accordingly.