The Rev. Kyle Doustou, Catholic chaplain at the University of Maine, makes the sign of the cross with ashes on the forehead of Joe Horn, 21, of Trenton, New Jersey, at an Ash Wednesday Mass in the Memorial Union. A member of the Black Bear football team, Horn is recovering from an injury sustained during a practice session. Credit: Judy Harrison / BDN

There’s just one requirement for a person to receive ashes in the shape of a cross on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday, the Rev. Kyle Doustou told the 40 or so people gathered for Mass at the University of Maine’s Memorial Union in Orono.

“You have to be mortal,” he told worshippers Wednesday.

Doustou, known as Father Kyle, is the Roman Catholic chaplain at Maine’s flagship campus. He is also the pastor of the Parish of the Resurrection of the Lord, which serves churches in Old Town, Orono, Indian Island and Bradley.

Ash Wednesday marks 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 9.

This year’s Ash Wednesday service signified a return to normal after two years of COVID-19 protocols that required worshippers to wear masks and be six feet apart.

In 2021, ashes were sprinkled on Catholics’ heads rather than marked on their foreheads to avoid touching at the height of the pandemic. Wearing ashes is a public sign of penitence and reminder that people are mortal.

“You are dust and to dust you will return,” the priest said while placing the ashes in the sign of the cross on worshippers’ foreheads.

Traditionally, the ashes used in services are created by burning the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration.

The Rev. Kyle Doustou, the Catholic chaplain at the University of Maine, distributes ashes to worshippers on Wednesday at a Mass at the Memorial Union on the Orono campus. About 50 students, staff and family attended the Ash Wednesday service to mark the beginning of Lent. Credit: Judy Harrison / BDN

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.

Joe Horn, 21, of Trenton, New Jersey, came to the Mass with some of his teammates from the Black Bear football team. Raised Catholic, he said that receiving ashes is part of his faith journey.

“I’m spending time with a great group of guys,” he said, gesturing to his friends.

Horn used a knee scooter Wednesday because he was recovering from a foot injury that occurred during practice.

Samantha Siemerling,19, of Dover-Foxcroft is not a student on campus at the university, but she likes worshiping with the college community.

“My whole family really likes Father Kyle, and this church community is more alive than my home parish,” she said.

Cedric Fahey, 23, of Medway, Massachusetts, a small town on the Charles River southwest of Boston, said that Ash Wednesday and Lent are “integral parts of our faith.”

“The ashes remind us of what’s important in life and of the relationships we have,” he said.