BANGOR, Maine — The Rev. Seamus Griesbach prepared the children and adults who attended Wednesday’s morning Mass at St. John Catholic Church for the placing of ashes on their foreheads.
“When the eighth-graders at All Saints Catholic School put the ashes on your foreheads, there are two things they can say,” the priest said. “One is ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.’ The second is, ‘Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.’”
The Ash Wednesday service marked the beginning of Lent, a time of self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting and alms-giving that will end in 40 days with the celebration of Easter.
“These statements tell us important things about Lent,” Griesbach said. “In the first, God is telling us that without him, we don’t have a chance. It’s a reminder to us that everything we have comes from him, and one day we will give everything back to him. The second saying says that once you realize you need God, don’t just stand there, go find him.”
The priest also encouraged worshippers this Lent to reduce their “screen time” and spend more time with family and friends.
This year, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland is placing an emphasis on the Sacrament of Reconciliation. All parishes or clusters will offer confessions every evening Monday through Friday, April 11-15. The program, called “The Light is On You,” will coordinate the times and dates of confession throughout the state for the first time, according to Harvest, the diocesan magazine.
The effort reflects Pope Benedict XVI’s call for a rediscovery of the sacrament of penance. He said that confession had more or less “disappeared from the existential habits of Christians” today, Catholic News Service reported in January.
The neglect of the sacrament is “a symptom of the loss of truth in relation to ourselves and with God; a loss that puts our humanity in danger and weakens our capacity for peace,” he said in a reflection on his travels and activities in 2010.
The tradition of placing ashes on the foreheads of Christians to mark the beginning of Lent dates back more than two centuries. Pope Gregory the Great instituted the custom of placing ashes on the foreheads of church members around 600 A.D. Roman Catholic, Episcopal and Anglican churches still follow the tradition. Recently, other denominations such as United Methodists and Congregationalists have embraced the tradition.
In addition, Lent is a time when converts complete their instruction, are baptized and receive their first Holy Eucharist on Easter Sunday.
This weekend, Bishop Richard J. Malone will preside over the Rite of Election, a Mass that calls upon an entire parish to pray for and to support those who are joining the church as adult converts. According to the diocese, 279 people are in the process of becoming baptized.
The Masses will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday, at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Caribou; and at 10:15 a.m. Sunday at St. John Catholic Church in Bangor, at 3 p.m. at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, and at 7 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland.