From a reader…
I was at Mass today at a parish with exceptionally reverent liturgies, communion received at the communion rail kneeling and on the tongue, male-only altar servers and EMHC, but something kept catching my eye and distracting me-one of the altar servers, who was also acting as an EMHC had a rather prominent tattoo on the backside of his hand.
Albeit, nothing offensive, but it was so distracting. Every swing of the thurible all I could see was his tattoo. Receiving communion, try as I might to ignore it, I caught myself trying to read it and see what it was (three nails and the Alpha and Omega symbols). Even the most slack jobs don’t permit visible tattoos. Is this permitted by the Church, or should visible tattoos be covered up when serving at the altar!
GUEST RESPONSE: Fr. Tim Ferguson
Personally, I’ve always found tattooing to be odd. I understand that in some cultures, especially in the Pacific, it is an important thing, a rite of passage and a way of defining oneself.
In the Holy Land, there is a centuries-old practice of pilgrims getting tattooed as proof of a completed pilgrimage
In our culture, tattooing is mostly seen as a sign of rebellion. Young people flaunt their rejection of their parents’ norms by having something permanently etched into their skin. I was recently intrigued by a news story about Mark Wahlberg, who is, by fits and starts, returning to the practice of the faith (and I am not holding him up as an ideal). Mr. Wahlberg had several tattoos and was getting them removed. He took his teen children with him to witness the painful process of removal, so that they might learn from his mistakes.
Back to the question. The Church universal has no rule prohibiting the tattooed from serving at the altar. Some may cite the prohibition from tattooing in Leviticus, but that’s from the old ritual law from which Christ freed us, much like the kosher laws. It would be entirely appropriate for a parish to have a policy on the matter or even a diocese to have particular law, mindful of the sensibilities of the local populace. Absent that, a priest would be within his rights to disallow someone whose appearance was inappropriate in some way, from attending him at the altar. No one has a right to serve.
This instance, as weird as I find tattoos, seems to be not inappropriate.