BANGOR, Maine — Olivia Pellegrini on Wednesday morning left St. John Catholic Church with ashes on her forehead and a neon green-colored cast on her right wrist.
Only one did she get at the York Street church.
Pellegrini, 13, of Holden and her grandmother, Patricia Martin, 66, of Bangor were among about 300 people who attended the Ash Wednesday service.
“I usually give up something” for Lent, Pellegrini, who recently broke her wrist skiing, said after the service. “This year I think it will be soda.”
Pellegrini said she also intended to pray every night “to be close to God.”
Her grandmother, who attends Mass almost every day, said she tries to sacrifice more in preparation for Easter, the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of the Lenten season, which lasts for 40 days not counting Sundays. It is a call to penance, prayer, alms-giving and sacrifice that ends with Easter, which this year will be on April 4.
Wearing the ashes is a public sign of penitence. The ashes used in the service are created by burning the palms used in the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration. While ashes may be purchased through companies that sell religious supplies, many congregations prepare the ashes themselves.
Catholics aren’t the only Christians who observe the first day of Lent with the distribution of ashes. Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists and Congregationalists are among the denominations that held special services Wednesday to mark the beginning of Lent.
Mary Reese, 72, of Veazie attended a service at Veazie Congregational Church.
“It was important to me to come today to start Lent and to show God’s love,” she said after the short service, which was attended by about a dozen congregants. “For me, Lent is about the crucifixion of Jesus who died for our sins and makes us all free.”
Clergy on Wednesday urged the faithful to consider giving something up for Lent, being more prayerful, reading Scripture more frequently and attending church more often.
“Today is a time to reboot your system, to clean up your hard drive,” said the Rev. Seamus Griesbach, a parochial vicar at St. John’s, comparing the Lenten season to the recent crash of his computer. “It’s a time to sit down with the Lord and get your life in order.”
The Rev. David W. Fox, pastor of the Congregational church in Veazie, urged his congregation to “take a closer walk with our Lord” during Lent.
“Lent is a time for soul-searching,” he said, “a time to look within ourselves and see how we can be better Christians.”
Traditionally, Ash Wednesday was preceded by days and nights of revelry. Called the season of Shrovetide in England, Egg Saturday, Quinquagesima Sunday, Collop Monday and Shrove Tuesday included games, sports, dances and feasting in anticipation of the sacrifice and fasting of Lent. The comparable French tradition of Mardi Gras — Fat Tuesday — is a major tourist attraction in New Orleans.