Is it a sin to get a tattoo?

Is it a sin to get a tattoo? (Catholic Response)

Due to youtube’s algorithm, I came across a youtube video of Ascencion Press discussing tattoos. Actually, I never thought that having one is a sin at all. I thought of it as a cool way to express oneself. In fact, as a teenager, I used to have henna every summer. I found it artistic and fun! That’s why it boggled me a bit when I knew that there is a moral argument for having a tattoo.

There are many different opinions on tattoos in the Church, so it can be hard to know where we stand.

In this blog post, we will explore what the Church officially teaches about tattoos. 

We live in a society where persons with tattoos are stereotyped as immoral, evil, or without direction. Do you also have the same impression? Or just like me, do you see it as a kind of art or self-expression? 

Is it a sin to get a tattoo?

Catholic Church does not prohibit having a tattoo. It has no teaching on having one. But in some cases, it can be immoral depending on the purpose.

Since having a tattoo is a heated debate, let’s tackle the perspectives on getting one.

One argument is that a tattoo is an alteration of the image of God (the body) in a way that is not natural to it. It is also an act of violence against one’s own body. A tattoo can be seen as an attempt to change one’s appearance or self-identity, which is something God calls us to accept with humility and gratitude.

However, if a person gets a tattoo out of necessity such as covering up their skin so they can avoid being infected, sunburned, or for any medical reason then it would not be immoral because it would not be done for vanity reasons or for personal pleasure but rather for practical reasons such as survival or health reasons.

The second argument is that a tattoo is a form of bodily decoration. They are not considered to be a kind of body mutilation that the Church condemned.

CCC 2297 Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.

Getting one does not affect your body’s structure and functions; it only alters its appearance by adding color or design. In the same manner that we use make-up, jewelry, or other accessories; which do not in any way mutilate your body’s functionality and so aren’t forbidden.

Tattoos are not intrinsically evil, but they can be used in a way that is contrary to the Church’s teaching. Therefore, one must refrain from getting a tattoo if it is at odds with Church’s stances or for the common good.

What does the Bible say about getting a tattoo?

“Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.”

Leviticus 19:28

This verse is generally understood to mean that tattoos are forbidden by God.

In other words, if you want to keep your body pure and holy before God, you should avoid getting a tattoo. 

The verse continues by warning people against customizing their bodies in other ways such as cutting, braiding, or dyeing their hair specifically for a certain style. This passage though is from the ceremonial law. And, it’s different from the moral law.

Ceremonial laws are no longer in effect because Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and fulfilled them all. Moral laws, however, are still valid and important today. Because of this distinction, we can conclude that tattoos are under moral law and not ceremonial law.

Mortal Sin

As mentioned, getting a tattoo is not intrinsically wrong. But it could be depending on your intention.

Now, since it could be a sin.

Let’s have a quick review.

Catholic Church categorizes sin depending on its gravity.

It could be mortal or venial.

For a sin to be mortal, the following must be present.

  • It must involve grave matter
  • Committed with full knowledge that it is a grave sin
  • Committed with deliberate consent

Let’s use getting a tattoo, as an example.

If one had a tattoo depicting blasphemy despite awareness that it is a sin, then there is a mortal sin.

To elaborate.

First, blasphemy is against the second commandment.

“Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

Therefore, it is a grave matter.

Next, that person committed it in full knowledge. It only means there was a consciousness that it is a sin.

Lastly, committed it with full consent. Despite one knowing that it was sinful, it was still done.

Note that all conditions must exist. If one of the conditions is lacking, it will fall as venial.

Confessing mortal sin is a must. While confessing venial sin is encouraged.

Now, let’s answer this question.

Is getting a tattoo a mortal sin?

It depends on the tattoo. If your tattoo will be mocking God and His teachings, and you are aware that it is a sin but still do it with consent, then it will be a mortal sin. So you better not get one!

Discernment before having a Tattoo

Just like body piercing, tattoos may be considered artistic or beautiful, however, they can also carry explicit or implicit messages that do not align with Catholic teachings. If you decide to proceed with getting a tattoo, consider whether it’s appropriate for your life as a Catholic. If not, consider other ways of expressing yourself through art or another medium. 

Now, if you still want to have a tattoo, please take into account the following guide. 

  • What is my reason for getting a tattoo?
    This answers the purpose of you getting a tattoo. You could be doing this for various reasons. Maybe to express your feelings, mark major events of your life, or perhaps tell a story. Whatever your reason might be, just make sure you are ready enough to accept the consequences. This question makes sure that your reason is in accordance with the morals of the Church.
  • Would this be disobedience to my parents?
    If you are under the authority of your parents, their approval is a drastic consideration. According to the 4th Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother.” If you disobey them, you could be against this. Despite having a reasonable purpose, if you disobey your parents, then it wouldn’t matter, and still wrong. Talk to them about your plan in getting a tattoo.
  • Would this body piercing affect my health?
    As mentioned, it is essential to know if it could have a risk to your health, or if it would affect how your body functions. If yes, then you should consider not doing it. Health matters. So if it could cause mutilation, then it is against the teachings of the Church. It is immoral.
  • What image should I get?
    This is an important decision to make. This will show your purpose for getting a tattoo. Avoid image that is against the Church. Imprinting “I’m an atheist” or “God doesn’t exist” in your body breaks the 2nd commandment; or “I hate Americans” breaks the 8th commandment. It should also not be Satanic, or sexually explicit. The image speaks a lot about you and what you believe so make sure it’s not vulgar or immoral.

Confession

Will God forgive me for my tattoos?

Yes. God is merciful and forgiving. He forgives you no matter how big your sin is. In the Sacrament of Confession, there is a fountain of mercy. You just have to reveal to the priest that your tattoo is against God and His teachings.

The priest will then give you counsel, ask you for penance and finally absolve you from your sins.

FAQ

Can a priest bless a tattoo?

According to Fr. JM, CSsR, the priest does not bless a tattoo because it is not in the Book of Blessings. On the other hand, they can bless the person.

Conclusion

If you are planning on getting a tattoo, the best thing to do is to discern well beforehand. It will be imprinted on your body for a lifetime so it’s best if you think it over multiple times.

To those who have a tattoo that is against God but repenting now, know that God is merciful and forgiving, You must be sorry for your sin and ask for forgiveness through the Sacrament of Penance.

In there, unlimited grace is poured out for the contrite souls.

May you discern well.

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