Since 2000, Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais has expressed his opinion on a variety of faith topics. These texts were initially published in the "Ask the Religion Experts" column which appears every Saturday in The Ottawa Citizen. As of June 2005, Msgr. Patrick Powers, Vicar General, will be taking on the responsibility of the weekly articles.

Why does denial of our appetites play such a large role in every faith?

Fasting can be traced to the earliest times of the Church, both in the Scriptures and the writings of the Church Fathers. They linked fasting with almsgiving and prayer. They saw it as a means of obtaining the forgiveness of sins, achieving reconciliation with ones neighbours, a sign of repentance, a concern for salvation and the practice of charity.

The historical, doctrinal and disciplinary background for the canons (1249-1251) of the Code of Canon Law which govern our observance of this precept were provided for us by Pope Paul VI, in the 1966 Apostolic Constitution Poenitemini. Ash Wednesdays and Good Fridays are days of fast and abstinence. We are encouraged to engage in voluntary fasting, especially during Lent. Our Catechism (in no. 1438) also recommends fasting every Friday, in memory of the death of the Lord.

Fasting links us with God, who from the birth of Jesus, joined heavens glory with the complete poverty of the stable. Our fasting leads us to the true celebration of the Eucharist and to solidarity with the worlds hungry, with whom God chose to be so closely identified. Besides providing the poor with money saved by our abstaining from food, fasting also forms a bond of sympathy with the starving by our sharing, to some degree, in their sufferings.

It prevents the self-aggrandizement that can result from heroic philanthropic acts. It engenders humility, placing us on the same level as those who suffer. Furthermore, fasting can strengthen our desire to help the poor by restructuring the distribution of the words goods. It also teaches us to use the earths resources with greater care and respect. Finally, our Eucharistic piety reminds us that we are meant to be bread for the world: we, who have much, are encouraged to fast so that the needy might have more.