ASK FATHER: Tattoos and St. Jane de Chantal

UPDATE: See an important comment added below.

From a reader…


i always thought that tattoos were somehow sinful. but today’s third lesson from Matins about St. Jane of Chantal makes me question that. what is the Church’s teaching on “body modifications” like that?

First, I am impressed that you are looking at the lessons from Matins.

The Lesson in question says that St. Jane de Chantal:

“When her husband was killed while hunting, she made a vow of continence, and she so mastered herself that she did not hesitate to act as godmother to the son of the man who killed her husband. Lest later on she should be moved from her determination to observe chastity, she renewed her vow and inscribed the most holy Name of Jesus on her breast with a hot iron.”

I am tempted to say, if you want to mark yourself up, want it badly enough that you would be willing to do it yourself with a red hot iron.  Any less zeal than that, you probably shouldn’t get a tattoo.

There were Old Testament prohibitions against marking the body, along with a lot of other prohibitions that we are no longer bound by under the New Covenant.

There is nothing sinful in itself in getting a tattoo.  That said, there are other factors which would make getting a tattoo sinful, such as the topic or aspect of the tattoo, why you got it, etc.

For example, during our Traditional Mass Pilgrimage to the Holy Land last February, a few of the men got Jerusalem Cross tats on their arms for completing the pilgrimage.  They went to a place on St. George Street which, it seems, has been in the business since the crusades and have been using the same stencil blocks for hundreds of years.  I don’t see anything wrong with that.   And their martyrdom will be assured when the Dems take full control.

On the other hand, it seems to me that mapping the whole body is an exaggeration.  Frankly, I find it revolting.

Again, motives and content make a different.

Finally, you could be committing a sin if you are so stupid as to choose a tattoo inflicter who isn’t very good.   And you could be committing a sin if you are so stupid as to neglect checking your spelling or verifying that that cool looking Chinese phrase really does mean “World Peace” and not “Turkey Sandwich”.

Remember.  Hangovers last a day.  Tattoos…. longer than that.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. DavidJ says:

    While not a fan of tattoos in general, if I ever make it to the Holy Land, I’m definitely getting one of those traditional tattoos.

  2. WmHesch says:

    Reason we raise our right hand in Court historically was to show whether someone’s right hand was branded for having previously plead “benefit of clergy” (a legal fiction that survived in American common law until the mid 19th century when it abolished by statute- mostly because the justice system didn’t want to give black Americans the benefit of clergy)

    Benefit of Clergy was an interesting legal fiction that allowed 1st offenders to claim they were tonsured clerks and thus get their case transferred to the Bishop’s court and save their necks.

    Mothers would insure wayward sons memorized Psalm 50, as reciting that Psalm in open court would “prove” they were “tonsured” and thus entitled to benefit of clergy.

  3. Fulco One Eye says:

    I have one on a non-obvious place. Of course, with a clear Christian theme – the only thing about me I wish to be permanent.

  4. JustaSinner says:

    Finished my half sleeve on my left forearm last year. Got the Father, Son and Holy Ghost with the Blessed Mother on the front side—artwork of Mary by my very talented oldest daughter. Took me over 50 years to decide what I wanted. Yeah, martyrdom if Joe Bs elected…but if ya gotta go, and we all gotta go, doesn’t martyrdom have some benefits?

  5. JEF5570 says:

    Almost every Christian area, irrespective of rite or geography, invaded by Muslims has adopted the practice of prominently tattooing women and girls (often as infants) with the cross or other Christian symbols. The practice is not as universal for men though. I’ll give you three guess as to why that is…

  6. CasaSanBruno says:


    [The contributor is an exorcist, whom I know and trust. Fr. Z]

    Our bodies do not belong to us to mar according to our whims. St. Paul never tires of reminding us that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. Just as I ought not carve my initials in the wall of the Holy Sepulcher, so too, ought I not permanently mark my body. My body is not my property since I am not the author of it.

    Tattoos, in their original usage, are a form of manifestation of allegiance to pagan deities. Paul tells us all that all the gods of the pagans are demons.

    I have dealt with with people who thought they had innocuous tats on their bodies. When I asked one girl why the “t” in a word was an inverted Cross, she had no answer and was quite angry at the artist. She had no idea.

    Sometimes tattoo artists have satanists curse the ink so that the bearer have a permanent malefice (demonic fortuna – something akin to an anti-sacramental, a physical object that bears a curse) in their body. Why do they do this? A proclivity to malice, for certain; but also so that they can earn brownie points from Satan for the amount of people they can infect.

    When I decommission tattoos, I use the formula from the Roman Ritual for “Reconciliation of a Profaned Church”, altering the words where appropriate. I paint over it with exorcised oil, using a Q-tip. Sometimes they scream as if I were skinning them alive. Sometimes it just hurts a bit. Often they feel nothing.

    I know an ex-nun who got some ink. When I did a mental exorcism of the tattoo (She wasn’t looking at me and didn’t know what I was doing in my mind) she jolted. Upon telling her that she was compromised thanks to the tattoo, she then told me that she had all the nuns in her former convent get ink from the same guy. All of them left the convent within 6 months.

    I deal with this stuff all the time. Some of the suffering that has resulted from it is quite sad. On the other hand, the worst part of tattoos is that they offend the One Who made our bodies and owns them.

  7. TDPelletier says:

    The comment made by CasaSanBruno regarding the curse over the ink reminded me of a similar claim someone made regarding essential oils (apparently popular among wiccan people). One cannot tell for sure if those oils have been cursed or not, but, just to be safe, I wouln’t use any .

  8. Anneliese says:

    The exorcist’s comment scared me a little. I have a Chi Rho cross on the inside of my left ankle. I hope God doesn’t find offense.

  9. Charles E Flynn says:

    Suggested search:

    tattoo immune system macrophage

  10. Kathleen10 says:

    Yeah who wants “I love you Moom”. Tattoo fails is one of the funniest things on the Internet, but like so many things on the Internet it can get horrifically graphic and then it’s awful. People ruin everything.

  11. Fulco One Eye says:

    I respect everything said by the above exorcist but knowing the situation in my case, I will not become exercised about it.

  12. OssaSola says:

    I have a horrible tattoo from the years I spent away from the Church. When I returned to the Faith, I spent 5 times its price having it lasered off, with only moderate success. I’ve been looking for a priest to decommission it, so far without success. I have wondered if it constitutes a spiritual “crack” of some sort that might be contributing to what seems like ongoing oppression. After reading what the exorcist has written here, I think I should keep trying to find a priest to decommission it.

  13. What does it mean to decommission a tattoo?

  14. Fr. Reader says:

    1) Very, very interesting comment from @CasaSanBruno.
    2) What does it mean to decommission a tattoo?
    3) Sometimes I think I do not need any tattoo since I already have three sacramental characters.

  15. cathgrl says:

    The only other place I was able to locate a reference to decommissioning a tattoo was here on an exorcist’s blog:

    Just from that and CasaSanBruno, it appears that to decommission a tattoo is to take it out of the evil one’s service.

    For those reading who are looking for a Priest to decommission a tattoo, it looks like you need to find an exorcist.

    I’m an old person (50+) and only have two sacramental characters, but I can’t imagine anyone NEEDING a tattoo.

  16. CasaSanBruno says:

    To answer the question regarding decommissioning a tattoo ,I’d compare it to breaking the form of a blessed object. Once the form is broken, the blessing is no longer there. We do the same thing with all sorts of malefices: exorcise them, break the form, then throw the debris in fire or running water if it doesn’t burn. In short, to decommission a tattoo is to break whatever curse may be attached to it and neutralize it.

  17. Macarius says:

    In my work as an RN on medical and psychiatric units I had many patients suffering from drug and alcohol addiction/withdrawal. Very many had tattoos of demons. I would think to myself, “So this is where your friends have brought you.”

  18. JGavin says:

    I find the comments of the excorcist most chilling. I am not surprised. My Grandmother who achieved a second grade education before emigrating to the USA, described a tatoo as a badge of ignorance. This was enough for me. I do not like them and have been most vocal to my children never to have one. I thought they , tatoos,were forbidden in the Old Testament and , therefore heeding St Paul’s admonition that all Scripture was good for education in holiness believed these practices, tatoos, useless and potentially dangerous.

  19. Elizabeth D says:

    I am seriously baffled. I have wondered for years why desecrated churches can be re-consecrated but unmarried women who are sexually defiled are defined permanently in contrast to the virginity they are meant to have, especially if come to know they have a celibate vocation which is often conceived of as “a life of virginity”. This is absolutely devastating–while mere buildings are treated as able to be restored to be for God. And a ritual for “Reconciliation of a Profaned Church” can be used for someone that got a tattoo? In the most perfect seriousness, why not do this routinely for defiled women rather than treat women defiled by a man as unable to be restored by God?

  20. Elizabeth D says:

    I can’t say enough this is a completely honest question! I appreciate CasaSanBruno saying that.

  21. Elizabeth D says:

    I have long concluded that the devil sees himself as having an ongoing claim on women who ever engaged in fornication regardless of repentance and sacramental reconciliation. The ontological categorization of women in contrast with the good state of virginity, a category associating them permanently with offenses against Christ the Bridegroom, from the devil’s perspective constitutes a “legal” claim–permanent identification with grave sin is what hell is all about. I have long thought that it’s obvious to have an exorcist break the demon’s claim and reassert that the person belongs to Christ. Christians adopted the concept of “consecrated virginity” from pagan Roman demon worship and it made sense to use concepts familiar to that culture, but they also underestimated how it is not compatible with the Christian understanding that Christ restores sinners.

  22. roma247 says:

    @Elizabeth D: what a great question. We certainly have ample evidence of Christ driving seven demons out of Mary Magdalene (who is generally assumed to be the same person as Mary of Bethany)…and his attitude toward the woman taken in adultery. Perhaps this is something that should be submitted to the “ASK FATHER” page, in the hopes that it might be fully addressed (if that is possible).

    I am also thankful to @CasaSanBruno for his insights shared here. So important to know. I don’t know if he is still following the comments here…but if he is able to enlighten us on this subject, that would be wonderful.

  23. Elizabeth D says:

    It’s a complicated and confusing subject, moreso than first meets the eye, and evades easy answers. On one level what I said seems worth considering as a creative approach to a sort of lacuna in pastoral care, on the other hand it’s a partial answer not a complete one. Jesus has/is the complete answer. Humans can tend to fall short in addressing some things. Father saw the comments.

  24. Hopeful says:

    I would be interested in reading a response to your question as well, Elizabeth D. The Gospel examples Roma247 pointed out are very good ones to find hope in, as well as Jesus’s conversation with the woman at the well. For those of us who have sinned and been wounded in the area of virginity, some writings of the Church and her saints on the subject do tend to feel like rubbing salt in, and make one feel eternally unclean and irredeemable– but that is exactly where we have to reject the feeling as not of God, and maybe offer to God our pain in love, in reparation for our sins and those of others.

  25. Elizabeth D says:

    Here is very briefly why that is a tall order…the Church has no dogmatic teaching about virginity (with the exception of dogmatic definitions regarding the virginity of Mary); virginity has no single fixed and universally agreed upon theological definition. This makes it complicated if not futile to try to reason about the flipside of it (even though it’s decidedly a concept with a flipside). Perhaps a way to state it is that virginity is a vernacular concept, that (at least to) mean something in everyday society, a significance that might shift over time. Also, virginity is relevant literally to marriage, in ancient Jewish and Roman cultures virginity of brides was important in law. Virginity is relevant ANALOGOUSLY to the spiritual life and relationship with God in light of the nuptial analogy for the spiritual life. Union with God is categorically not sexual union so even whether one is male or female is not relevant to “spiritual marriage”. It’s an analogy. Ancient Roman religion saw the gods as literally sexually interested in humans and “consecrated virginity” was a thing in their culture; the virginity of vestal virgins was seen as so important to the gods’ favor in preserving the intact body politic that the Roman state put Vestal priestesses to death if they got raped. When Christians borrowed this culturally significant concept and made characterizing female celibacy in this way part of their program to oppose and defeat paganism, analogous and literal virginity fused in the person of these women, especially as vocation promotion and spiritual guidance works written for them exalted this as (at least subjectively, and as a matter of the Church’s strategy to bear witness to Christ the Bridegroom) extremely significant; a little later this would also be strongly connected with Mary during the dramatic conflict with Arianism, see especially Emperess/Saint Pulcheria. Essentially this created a perception of literal virginity as very important for celibate women’s relationship with Christ (regardless that He died to reconcile sinners to Himself and make His bride the Church holy.. the Old Testament refers rather fluidly to “harlot Israel” and “virgin Israel” but when the matter is literal not an analogy it’s not fluid). It definitely made it very important for human honorableness as a celibate. But the importance of virginity to marriage also made being a “fallen woman” or “magdalene” a disadvantaged and vulnerable class and that absolutely lasted into the early 20th c. There was often social concern to help such women in various ways, because their marriage and even employment prospects were often limited. Today, post-sexual-revolution, essentially the social (not to mention legal) importance of virginity of literal brides has collapsed, but not the importance of virginity to women’s consecrated life. Since the former is actually the point of reference for understanding the analogy applied to the latter, this is problematic, and even moreso because now it APPEARS like Jesus the Bridegroom rejects women for their sins in a way that isn’t true of ordinary men. Literalizing the importance of virginity to women’s celibacy used to make it match secular marriage culture, but now there’s a contrast, and that reality needs more thought because it’s not necessarily spirtually helping people. Basically, the Church’s traditions about this are rooted in ancient historical realities without which they are incompletely understood, if not misunderstood. I will just stop there.

  26. Elizabeth D says:

    Appropos of this: RNC speaker Alice Johnson, formerly sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for a nonviolent first offender drug offense, who had taken up the cause of criminal justice reform and had her sentence commuted by Trump, said something very true in her beautiful speech, that no one wants to be defined forever by the worst mistake they ever made. I just saw that today for St Augustine’s feast Day, or at any rate on his feast day, Trump did even better, he invited her to the oval office and she didn’t know what he was going to do but he granted her a full pardon. She’s no longer defined by her mistake. That should not be impossible.

  27. roma247 says:

    @Elizabeth D
    Wow, so much to digest here…is this your analysis or is this a repost of a response you received?

    All of this is very good, and I certainly understand it, though it doesn’t really address what you brought up, which I think was an important corollary to physical virginity, and that is the spiritual “open door” that it represents to the enemy.

    I think it is not entirely necessary to deal with the baggage of the deeper meaning of physical virginity in order to recognize that much could be done to help secure this major weakness on the front lines by looking at “deflowered” women through an exorcist’s eyes.

    Much ink, virtual and non-virtual, is spilled over the crisis of porn addiction for men, but this is usually completely ignored.

    Just my two cents.

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