Do you tattoo? This question arises frequently in youth groups and Catechism classes! The are arguments on both sides of this issue for Catholics. While some are adamantly opposed to body art, others are completely okay with even extreme tattooing. I believe that the ‘Catholic common-sense answer’ lies somewhere in between.
Although the Catholic Church does not have a specific teaching on tattoos, we have a Deposit of Faith that does address aspects of the human body and the dignity it deserves. The teachings from Theology of the Body show us that God’s perfect plan for our lives, faith, sexuality, and human dignity are actually stamped on our bodies in the way we are created. The bottom line is that God has created us in His image, perfectly!
So, some would argue, why mess with perfection? Well, we choose to style our hair certain ways, to wear certain clothing, to reflect some aspects of culture in how we present ourselves; shouldn’t our decisions about tattoos reflect that same thinking?
Instead of embroiling ourselves in a bitter argument about tattooing in general, we should consider it within the confines of our Catholic view.
1/ Why am I considering a tattoo? Am I giving into a cultural trend, or is that trend just providing me with another avenue to express myself?
2/ Is my tattoo drawing attention to good things? If a woman wears a revealing blouse, she can lead others into sin. So too can a positive tattoo lead others to higher reverence and a negative one can lead others into sinful or even scandalous thinking. Will your tattoo hurt your dignity in any way?
My own son has a beautiful image of St. Michael the archangel tattooed on his back. He keeps it covered most of the time, but when others see it he uses it to draw them into conversations about faith.
3/ Did I seek spiritual guidance before getting my tattoo? Before my teenage daughter leaves the house, she will often ask me if her dress is long enough. She trusts and values my opinion and she wants her body to reflect the beauty God creates in a modest/chaste way. In the same way, when my own heart was moved to put some tangible proof of my faith on my body (a reaction to seeing the movie For Greater Glory), I sought the advice of my priest. I chose a small (dime sized) Christian Fish tattoo placed on my foot. My priest understood my choice, did not feel it was contrary to my faith and gave me permission to go through with my planned tattoo. If he had said no, I would have obeyed.
4/ Have I prayed about it? We should pray about every decision we make, especially the permanent ones. Mark my words, tattoos are permanent. Pray intently before choosing to get one (or more). I often work with brides in PreCana classes who regret the huge back tattoo they got as they prepare to wear their wedding dress on their special day!
5/ Has obtaining tattoos become dangerous, self-mutilating, self-destructive or obsessive/addictive? These are very important questions that should be asked and discussed with a spiritual advisor or priest who is well-grounded in authentic Catholic teaching. Sometimes, getting tattoos is a way of hiding our true selves (shame), proving how tough we are (pride), or even hurting ourselves (they are quite painful). If getting tattoos is part of a deeper issue, we need to have the courage to address that issue and unpack it thoroughly before acting on our feelings.
In his blog, Stephen Spiteri does an excellent job of giving both sides of the argument regarding getting tattoos, as well as some great guidelines to consider. Another good reference is Father Dwight Longenecker’s piece. Please fully consider the implications of marking an already perfect body, in any way. God bless.