Why Catholic Tattoos are a Pope-Approved Form of Modern-Day Apostleship

Quote of the Day:

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”  – Saint Paul, as quoted from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. (NABRE)

Today’s 99-Word Contemplation:

Sporting one or more modest Catholic tattoo(s) often affords you the opportunity to discuss your faith with individuals you meet and may not have otherwise spoken to. Your discussion with them is borne from their own curiosity and, therefore, not perceived by them as offensive. This blesses you with the capacity to shift from your “modern disciple of Christ” ambiance (i.e., a follower or student) to a gentle but effective approach of “modern apostle of Christ” (i.e., someone sent out with a message or mission) with those whom you encounter by careful measures of your words, actions, and passions.

Today’s Reflection:

Some people believe that tattoos are intrinsically evil. They couldn’t be more wrong.

For something to be intrinsically evil it can never be used for any type of good, under any circumstance nor at any time – past, present, or future. That is, the act itself is, and always has been, bad; it has, and always has been, sinful; and it has, and continuously will, distract you from God.

When talking about tattoos and body piercings, many Christians are quick to point to Leviticus 19:28 which states, “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.”  However, this is an Old Testament reading which reflects ceremonial law, promulgated by Moses, that was binding upon the Jewish people but not all Christians. It was not unchanging moral law, which is for all Christians and for all times. Ceremonial law, then, is only binding when it concurrently violates moral law as well.

Speaking to a group of young people at the Vatican on March 19, 2018, Pope Francis advised his guests, “Don’t be afraid of tattoos,” noting that for centuries Eritrean Christians and others have gotten tattoos of the cross on their foreheads.

“Don’t be afraid of tattoos.”

Pope Francis, march 19, 2018

Pope Francis went on to suggest young priests could perhaps use tattoos as a way of building rapport with people they are trying to connect with because tattoos usually tell a story about the person. Tattoos, then, could lead to conversation that would invite them to get to know one another at a more individual level, potentially leading to a discussion about Christ and His Church.

Hey, It’s not just us catholics

To demonstrate the various perspectives of the world’s leading religious institutions regarding their stance on obtaining tattoos, let’s take a brief look at a few examples. You will find that, although some religions do forbid tattoos, others take a more generous stance as well.

Catholics: Given tattoos are not intrinsically evil, there is no prohibition on obtaining at tattoo so long as the tattoo is not morally offensive or obtained with the intent of being morally offensive or degrading.

Other Christians: Some Christians continue to take issue with tattooing, asserting the Hebrew prohibition from the Book of Leviticus previously discussed (Leviticus 19:28). Interpretation between various Christian churches vary, however, with some churches giving a thumbs up to being inked so long as the tattoos are not morally offensive.

Judaism: Tattoos are generally forbidden in Judaism based on the Torah (Leviticus 19:28). However, having a tattoo does not prohibit community, having a tattoo does not prohibit you from participating in the faith or from being buried in a Jewish cemetery. 

Islam: Academics often claim that permanently tattooing the skin is a sin. Prohibitions against tattooing are meant to protect Muslims from blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.

  • Sunni Islam: The great majority of Sunni Muslims believe that obtaining a tattoo is a sin. Getting a tattoo changes the natural God-created body and inflicts unnecessary pain on the individual receiving the tattoo. Thus, the body becomes “dirty” which will lead to the mind following suit.
  • Shia Islam: There are no authoritative Islamic prohibitions on tattoos. Still, by ruling of Grand Ayatollah Sadiq Hussaini, tattoos are discouraged.  
  • Punk Muslim: The Punk Muslim community has an open mind regarding tattoos as they view getting a tattoo as an identity for punks, bringing about a natural bond for the group. That said, the Punk Muslim lifestyle does not follow the norm of the Islam practice and Punk Muslim members are not accepted and welcomed in the general society.

Buddhism: Tattoos, traditionally of Buddha or other religious figures, are sometimes applied by Buddhist monks in Southeast Asia as a protective tattoo. Obtaining one requires the newly-tattooed recipient to observe the Five Precepts (i.e., code of ethics) to be accepted by lay followers of Buddhism. The Five Precepts are: 1) commitments to abstain from killing living beings; 2) stealing; 3) sexual misconduct; 4) lying; and 5) intoxication. 

Hinduism: Tattoos are accepted culturally and religiously.

My own crazy-cool catholic tattoos

I have six Catholic tattoos, each of which I absolutely love. All five of my Catholic tattoos are on my arms and forearms and are clearly visible unless I wear a long-sleeve shirt. And true to Pope Francis’ suggestion, my tattoos have opened up conversations with others about my Catholic faith that would never have occurred otherwise.

My six Catholic tattoos include:

  • A complete 5-decade rosary.
  • The Alpha and Omega combined with the Chi-Rho symbol.
  • A quote: “Give me insight, Lord, to know your will. Then I will cherish it with all my heart.” This quote encases “1221” which is the year the original Franciscan “Third Order” rules were written by St. Francis of Assisi.
  • Two black full-circle wrist bands on same wrist enclosing the following statements: “Fiat Voluntas Tua” (“Thy will be done”) and “Pax et Bonum” (“Peace and all good”).
  • A Marian sword symbol with the sword falling behind the letter “M”; on either side of the bottom of the sword is the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Immaculate Heart of Mary is pierced by a sword as Simeon predicted in the Temple when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus.
  • A stalk of wheat which reminds me we must first die to self before bearing new life.

Is getting Catholic ink right for you?

For Catholics, then, it is simple: It is your body, your apostleship, and ultimately your decision whether to get tattooed. You are free to ink up to your heart’s content so long as you do not violate moral law established by God. In other words, you should not get tattoos that are sexually explicit, satanic, or opposed the Church teaching.

Remember, though, tattoos are meant to be permanent.

  • Will I regret this decision 10 or more years down the road?
  • Am I prepared to care for my tattoo? (yes, they require long-term care if they are to remain looking excellent over time)
  • Am I sure about this specific tattoo?
  • Can I truly afford it?
  • Where on my body do I want the tattoo placed? (e.g., do I want to be able to cover it up if I do not want it to be seen?
  • Will my tattoo interfere with me getting a job?
  • Getting a tattoo is painful – can I handle the pain? (A large tattoo can take hours or even multiple hours-long sessions)

Here are a couple questions you should also consider asking your tattoo artist:

  • How long have you been a tattoo artist?
  • Do you have all the necessary state credentials?
  • Do you have a portfolio of previous work I can review?
  • How much does the tattoo design I want cost?
  • How much time will it take to complete?
  • What precautions do you take to ensure a safe tattoo experience (e.g., limit the chances of infections or blood-borne diseases)?

One last note: You can always design your own, too! Most tattoo artists are happy to listen to your design ideas and draw up your original art.

Share your of Catholic tattoos

Do you have any Catholic ink of your own? Thinking about getting any Catholic ink?

I would love for you to share descriptions of your own ink in the comments below for others to study. Or better yet, email me a picture of yours at 99wordsaday@gmail.com. I am always looking for new ideas, too!

Until then – cheers to getting inked “Catholic style!” Go, be a modern-day apostle and share your love of God with your own unique voice!

Today’s Supporting Scripture Versus for Additional *Contemplation (NABRE):

* When contemplating scripture, rest your thoughts and simply love, and allow yourself to respond to God’s love. That is, we are allowing the scripture to permeate us in order to grow closer to God.

Note: The New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE) can be found online at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+1&version=NABRE

  1. Galatians 3:23-25: Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,
  2. Leviticus 19:28: You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.
  3. Luke 6:37: Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.
  4. 1 Peter 3:15: But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,
  5. Matthew 10:32: So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,
  6. 1 Corinthians 10:31: So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
  7. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Today’s Supporting Links for Additional *Meditation:

* When meditating on scriptures, articles, and other forms of media, we are actively engaging in cognition (i.e., we are actively thinking). That is, we are studying the material in order to learn.

  1. What the Church Says About Tattoos
  2. Tattoos: Not Just for Bikers Anymore
  3. Pope Francis: Tattoos Could Help Connect Priests with ‘Culture of the young’
  4. Tattoos and Catholic Morality
  5. A Catholic’s Guide to Getting a Tattoo
  6. Top 53 Catholic Tattoo Ideas – [2020 Inspiration Guide]
  7. 100+ Catholic Tattoos Images in 2020
  8. Best Catholic Tattoos for Women Ideas
  9. 75+ Rosary Tattoos to Flaunt the Beauty of the Catholic Faith

Today’s Prayer for Healing:

The Thomas Merton Prayer:

My Lord God,

I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. 


Note: This prayer was found on https://reflections.yale.edu/article/seize-day-vocation-calling-work/merton-prayer

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