As I was watching, I came across a youtube video discussing if getting tattoos is wrong. Actually, I never thought that it is a sin at all. I personally thought of it as a cool way to express oneself. In fact, as a teenager, I used to have henna during the summer. I found it to be artistic and fun! That’s why it surprised me when I first found out 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 and if Catholics (both clergy and laity) can get one.
Catholic Teaching on getting Tattoos
To start, let’s tackle what the Church has to say about getting tattoos.
The Catholic Church does not have teaching on getting tattoos. It does not allow it and it does not prohibit it either. The Catechism only warns the faithful about body mutilation.
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.
That said, there is a possibility that getting one can put a soul in danger.
Before we proceed to the instances in which it could be a sin. Let’s discuss first the existing arguments for getting a tattoo.
The first one is that a tattoo is an alteration of the image of God (the body) in a way that is not natural to it. 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 sunburned, or infected for any medical reason then it would not be immoral. The reason is it would not be done for vanity or for personal pleasure but rather for practical reasons such as survival or for health.
The second argument is that a tattoo is a form of bodily decoration. They are not considered to be a kind of body mutilation as mentioned in the Catechism that the Church condemned.
Getting one does not affect the structure and functions of the body; it only alters its appearance by adding design or color. In the same manner that people use make-up, jewelry, or other accessories which do not in any way mutilate their body’s functionality. Therefore not forbidden.
But how about the scriptures? What does the Bible say about getting a tattoo?
Here is a passage that talks about getting tattoos.
“Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.”
This is generally understood to mean that God forbids tattoos.
That if you want to keep your body pure and holy before God, you should not get a tattoo.
The verse continues by warning people against customizing their bodies in ways such as braiding, cutting, or dyeing their hair specifically for a particular style. This passage though is from the ceremonial law which is different from the moral law.
Ceremonial laws are no longer in effect because of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins, fulfilling them all. Moral laws, however, are still valid and relevant today. Because of this distinction, we can conclude that tattoos are under moral law and not the ceremonial law.
Getting Tattoos as a Sin
Getting tattoos is not intrinsically evil, but as mentioned, it is now under moral law. It can be a sin. It can be used in a way that is against the teachings of the Church.
So what are the instances that it could be a sin?
In getting a tattoo, it is important to know your intention.
If your intention is to blaspheme God, disobey your parents, or risk your health then it is a sin. Therefore, you must avoid it.
Discernment about having a tattoo
Tattoos, just like body piercing, may be considered art to convey oneself, however, they can also carry explicit or implicit messages that are contrary to Catholic teachings. If you would push through with getting a tattoo, it is important to consider if it’s appropriate as a Catholic. If not, consider other ways.
Now, if you still want to have a tattoo, here are the points to consider.
- What is my reason for getting a tattoo?
This answers the purpose of getting a tattoo. You could be doing this for different reasons. Maybe to express your feelings or thoughts, mark major events of your life, or maybe tell a story. Whatever your reason might be, just make sure you are prepared enough to accept the repercussions. 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 substantial consideration. As the 4th Commandment states, “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. Tell them about your plan in getting a tattoo.
- Would this affect my health?
As discussed, it is essential to know if it could have a negative risk to your health, or if it would affect how your body functions. If yes, then you should not consider doing it. Health matters. If it could cause mutilation, then you are contradicting the teachings of the Church. It is immoral.
- What image should I get?
This is a major decision to make. This will display the purpose of getting a tattoo. Avoid images that are vulgar, profane, and 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 your beliefs so make sure it’s not immoral.
Catholics on getting a Tattoo
Now, let’s answer the question.
Can Catholics get Tattoos?
Yes. Catholics can get a tattoo. The Catholic Church does not forbid getting one. However, it is important to discern well and know the intention. If is against the Church and its teachings or for the common good, one must refrain from getting one.
If one had a tattoo that is at odds with the Church and its stance, one must have an examen to know if it is a mortal sin. If so, it is necessary to go to confession for forgiveness.
To know more about, confessing it, you can check this out.
As Catholics, we are given free will. However, we must use this with a conscience.
Having a tattoo is one way to express oneself. The Church does not prohibit it. But it is our duty to be responsible in whatever we choose to imprint in our bodies, making sure that it is appropriate and not against the Church.
May you discern well.