Q. I am a 70-year-old who has been Catholic all my life. In the current days, I see several things that don’t seem to be what we were taught all those years ago. One thing is the growing number of tattoos seen on many, including those that practice Catholicism. We were taught that the degradation of the body by permanent ink was not allowed in the church. Thoughts?
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
In the Book of Leviticus, God commands, “Do not lacerate your bodies for the dead, and do not tattoo yourselves” (19:27). The mourning rites of Israel’s pagan neighbors apparently involved disfigurement, at least occasionally, and the Lord wished to make certain his people avoided these excesses.
Obviously, most individuals who invest in tattoos today do so for reasons vastly different from those who sought them in the day of the chronicler of Leviticus. One thing, however, has not changed, and that is the respect due our bodies. St. Paul urges the Corinthians to remember, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit … you have from God … you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:19-20). And the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “Morality requires respect for … the body.… It rejects a neo-pagan notion that tends to … idolize physical perfection” (No. 2289).
Tattoos are a matter of personal choice, and the Church takes no stand on them, except to remind us they make a permanent impression on a surface of immense value, one we have a moral obligation to protect. Before we alter it, we should consider — carefully — the consequences.