The Carmelite scapular, carrying the powerful promise of escaping hell, is a popular devotion.
But scapulars can be awkward under certain types of clothes or simply easy to forget in the morning. So, could a well-intentioned Catholic already enrolled in the Brown Scapular Confraternity get a tattoo of the image of the scapular on their skin and receive those same graces and promises?
CNA asked; theologians and priests answered.
“It seems the answer is quite simply, no,” Dr. Mikail Whitfield, a professor of theology at Benedictine College in Atchinson, Kansas, told CNA.
The reasons for this have to do with the way the Catholic Church defines sacramentals, and the nature of tattoos, he added.
“While a tattoo is a thing, it is hard to consider it an object. It is more properly an image, though admittedly images can be sacred Furthermore, it is certainly not a ‘common object’ of daily life by which we can be reminded that all the things we do in this life, even the simplest things like wearing clothing, are supposed to be ordered towards our heavenly end,” Whitfield said.
Furthermore, he added, tattoos do not seem to imitate any other sacramental aspects of the Church, and they have not been set aside by the Church as sacramentals themselves.
In fact, the Catholic Church has not made any definitive statements on the morality, or lack thereof, of getting tattoos, and so answers to questions about tattoos vary widely among theologians and priests.
“I don’t think we can talk about tattoos as something good,” said Fr. Luis Granados, D.C.J.M, who serves as the J. Francis Cardinal Stafford Chair of Moral Theology at St. John Vianney theological seminary in Denver.
“The problem of a tattoo is…we are misunderstanding the meaning of the body,” he said. “Our body is called to be accepted as a gift from God. We can heal what is sick, but we are called to accept our body, with its characteristics.”
Adornments of the body, such as makeup or nail polish, are different because they are not permanent changes to one’s body, Granados said.
However, in some parts of the world, there are deeply rooted traditions of Christian tattoos. Some Coptic Christian churches require that Christians must have a tattoo of a cross on their arm in order to be admitted into their churches.
Seeing a priest or a religious sister or brother with tattoos may become a more common occurrence as well, because according to a 2015 Harris Poll, a whopping 47% of millennials reported that they have at least one tattoo.
Br. MJ Groark O.F.M. Cap., is one of those millennials, and is “heavily tattooed.”
“As a millennial (and soon to be priest), I can tell you that my tattoos have been generally met with overwhelming generosity. I have a heck of a conversion story, and these are part of it,” he told CNA.
“I can tell you that God is calling many men and women from this generation into ministry, and a whole bunch of us have tattoos. It’s part of our generation’s way of expressing our lives, and increasingly, our spiritual beliefs,” he said.
Groark said that considering what he learned in his moral theology training, he thinks the morality of a tattoo lies in its meaning.
Father Ambrose Dobrozsi is another tattooed millennial priest in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohio. Dobrozsi told CNA that he did not think tattoos could not be considered sacramentals in the strict, proper sense of the word.
However, he added, it is possible that tattoos could be “sacramentals” in a broader sense of the word.
“A permanent image, engraved on the skin, could certainly serve as a constant, physical reminder of our new life in Christ. The image of a rosary, a cross, or other sacramental on our skin could lead us frequently to pray, to desire the seven sacraments more, and to think and act in communion with the Church,” he said.
Whitfield said that another reason that a tattoo would not be a proper scapular is because “an image is not the thing it images.”
Full story at Catholic News Agency.