BANGOR, Maine — McKenzie Baber is giving up meat.
Ryan Britt, her eighth-grade classmate at All Saints Catholic School, is going to pray more often.
The priest who placed ashes in the shape of a cross on their foreheads Wednesday morning announced he will stop watching television during Lent.
The Ash Wednesday Mass at St. John Catholic Church on York Street
marked the beginning of the Lenten season. It is a call to penance, prayer, almsgiving and sacrifice that ends with Easter, which will be celebrated on March 31.
“Lent is a time for repentance for your sins,” McKenzie, 13, of Veazie said. “It’s a time to reflect on what you can do better and to acknowledge what you’ve done wrong.”
Ryan, 13, of Hermon said he is going to pray more often and spend more time reflecting on God as he prepares to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.
“Easter is the most important time in the liturgical year for the church,” he said. “It gives you a lot of joy. There’s a lot of emotion after those 40 days of repenting and reflecting on what you have done.”
The Rev. Seamus Griesbach, who celebrated the 9:30 a.m. Mass for students of Bangor’s only Catholic school and area Catholics, said Lent will be different this year. When he asked the students what had happened Monday, one replied: “The pope gave up.”
The priest said Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement that he would retire as of Feb. 28 could be viewed that way. Griesbach urged worshippers to pray for the pope and older members of St. Paul the Apostle Parish, which serves churches in Bangor, Brewer, Hampden and Winterport.
He urged the students to spend time with the elderly as the pope did last year.
“During Lent, I encourage you to reach out and spend time with those who are older than you are,” the priest said. “We have to make sure we love all people from the moment of conception to the end of their lives.”
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.
Wearing ashes is a public sign of penitence. Traditionally, the ashes used in services are created by burning the palms used in the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration.
Eastern Orthodox Christians will celebrate the resurrection of Christ, called Pascha, on May 5.