Tattoos and Body Piercing

MKM writes: “I had a discussion with my sister on body tattoos and she said she checked on EWTN’s web site and found the Church has no official teaching on it even though it says in scripture not to. My sister also said EWTN’s information mentioned it was in the OLD TESTAMENT and her understanding was it no longer applied in today’s time. . .

“My question is: what is the teaching on body tattoos and if she is correct where is it stated because it’s in the OT we no longer have to go by it? Also, could you tell me where in scripture it talks about tattoos? I have read it but can’t seem to find it.”
Your sister is correct. The most oft-cited argument against tattooing is based on the following OT verse: “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh on account of the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:28).

As the EWTN article points out, the prohibition against tattooing “had specific purposes in circumventing any tendency for the people of ancient Israel to lapse into idolatry and assorted forms of pagan worship. It is important to note, of course, that this Old Testament prohibition on marking one’s body does not apply to Christians because the Old Testament Law does not apply to Christians.” (see http://www.ewtn.com/vexperts/showmessage.asp?number=463499&Pg=Forum3&Pgnu=1&recnu=7)

Another excellent source provided by Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) points out that references to this verse are not present in important magisterial documents and in the principal writings of the Fathers of the Church. “It is the consensus of Catholic biblical commentators that this prohibition is not part of the unchanging moral law, but part of the ritual law specific to the Old Testament,” the CUF writes. (See http://www.cuf.org/faithfacts/details_view.asp?ffid=233 )

Having said all that, the Church has no official teaching on tattoos and body piercing and does not consider these practices to be intrinsically evil; however, it does offer help in discerning whether it could be sinful in certain situations.

For instance, the fifth commandment – “You shall not kill” – concerns not just respect for human life, but for bodily health and integrity as well. This is something to consider before undergoing tattooing and some piercings because of the many serious health risks associated with these practices.

The most common health risks associated with tattooing involve allergic reactions to the dyes and skin infections. Depending on the cleanliness of the equipment used, tattooing is also known to facilitate the transfer of a variety of bloodborne pathogens such as hepatitis C and B as well as tetanus and HIV.

Those who undergo piercing of the tongue and nose encounter additional risks associated with disrupting the integrity of mucous membranes which protect the body from many infections. If a person has some bacteria or virus present on their skin or in their mouth at the time of the piercing, these organism can enter the body.

The CUF also suggests that one’s intentions in getting a tattoo has some bearing on whether or not it is sinful. For instance, if one has an uncharitable image tattooed onto the body for the purpose of offending someone.

One should also be aware of the fact that impure and demonic images could lead others to sin and harm the souls of our neighbors.

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