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According to the Catholic Church, can a tattoo be considered a sacramental?

I have a friend who is thinking about getting a tattoo on each shoulder, containing the image of the Medal of St. Benedict. There are several different blessings for this medal now. Any priest may bless the Medal of St. Benedict and some blessings have the word image in lieu of the word medal.

If a priest were to bless this image would it be considered a sacrament, according to the Catholic Church.

Although I am bring up the case of the Medal of St. Benedict, any other image in use in this question could hold also.

In the case of lack of official Catholic Church teachings on this subject could a priest simply bless such holy images? Is there any Church prohibitions against this?

Are priests allowed to bless tattoos? After all there are also blessings for people in the Rituale Romanum!

Here follows the image of the Medal of St. Benedict that my friend is considering.

St.Benedict Medal

St. Benedict Medal

  • "there are also blessings for people in the Rituale Romanum!" What about for body parts? – Geremia Jan 1 at 21:43
  • Also, sacramentum in Classical Latin meant a "military oath of allegiance". I heard the Roman soldiers tattooed/branded themselves, and that was also called a "sacramentum". – Geremia Jan 1 at 21:45
  • Leviticus 19:28 (NRSVCE) says: "" You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord."" If the priest thinks that the instructions of Leviticus are outdated, he can bless the tattoo, but one wonders whether that makes for a sacrament ! – Kadalikatt Joseph Sibichan Jan 3 at 8:25
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    @KadalikattJosephSibichan since the context of this question is specifically Catholicism, you might consider that taking a single quote out of Scripture rarely constitutes a definitive doctrinal declaration in Catholicism – eques Jan 3 at 21:40
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    @luis that's OK - we always like to see new faces! But it's best when they're answering questions. That's the fastest way you can get reputation on the site to be able to do more stuff (comment on other posts, chat, see review queues, etc...) – Peter Turner Jan 6 at 4:29
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Interestingly, the only time the word medals is mentioned in the ARTICLE 1 - SACRAMENTALS of the CCC is under the Popular Piety section,

(italic is mine)

Popular piety

1674 Besides sacramental liturgy and sacramentals, catechesis must take into account the forms of piety and popular devotions among the faithful. The religious sense of the Christian people has always found expression in various forms of piety surrounding the Church's sacramental life, such as the veneration of relics, visits to sanctuaries, pilgrimages, processions, the stations of the cross, religious dances, the rosary, medals, etc.

This paragraph is giving the impression that not even medals can be considered sacramentals!

There is also an etc in the end of the paragraph sufficiently ambiguous.

Better consult the Compendium of the CCC

(italic is mine)

351. What are the sacramentals?

1667-1672 1677-1678

These are sacred signs instituted by the Church to sanctify different circumstances of life. They include a prayer accompanied by the sign of the cross and other signs. Among the sacramentals which occupy an important place are: blessings, which are the praise of God and a prayer to obtain his gifts, the consecration of persons and the dedication of things for the worship of God.

Can a tattoo be considered a thing? Don't know.

Better ask a "tattooed millennial priest":

Can tattoos be sacramentals? [Article from the CNA]

“Sacramentals, used well, keep us close to the grace of Christ given to us in the seven sacraments, and receive their graces by the authority that Christ gives his bride, the Church, when she asks for his help. When the Church asks Christ for graces, He never refuses his bride,”

and

“This means that sacramentals only work when they are done according to the rules of the Church. If we want to ask Christ for these graces, we need to make sure we do so authentically as the Church, obediently accepting the rules she sets down. It's clear in Canon Law that the Apostolic See alone has the authority to establish sacramentals and define the criteria for their use [c. 1167],”

and

"However, he added, it is possible that tattoos could be “sacramentals” in a broader sense of the word."

which means in a strict sense they are not.

He keeps talking,

“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.

and finally,

“So, while a tattoo could not fulfill the requirements to be a proper sacramental in itself, if used in discernment and good faith it could certainly provide similar benefits and be helpful in the pursuit of holiness.”

And here we have the confirmation that tattoos can not be considered sacramentals.

I can't confirm a tattoo can be blessed without being considered a sacramental.

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Sacramentals are defined in 1917 canons 1144-5 (cf. 1983 canons 1166-7):

  1. The Sacramentals are objects or actions resembling the Sacraments which the Church makes use of by way of intercession to obtain especially spiritual effects.
    [Latin:] Sacramentalia sunt res aut actiones quibus Ecclesia, in aliquam Sacramentorum imitationem, uti solet ad obtinendos ex sua impetratione effectus praesertim spirituales.

  2. The Apostolic See alone can institute Sacramentals, authentically interpret those in use, or abolish or change some of them.
    [Latin:] Nova Sacramentalia constituere aut recepta authentice interpretari, ex eisdem aliqua abolere aut mutare, sola potest Sedes Apostolica.

So, no, tattoos cannot be considered sacramentals because the Apostolic See has not considered them as such.


Also, as attested in ch. 5 of his autobiography, Bl. Henry Suso, O.P., inscribed the Name of Jesus into his breast with a stylus, but there is no indication that he or anyone else considered it a sacramental. It seems for him to have had the effects of a sacramental, conferring grace not ex opere operato ("from the work performed," as in the sacraments) but ex opere operantis (from his pious dispositions, as in the sacramentals).

  • I've got a feeling this is a tad more pedantic an answer than is necessary. You may be right, but you may also still be wrong. Reading the Catechism 1668-1676 would not necessarily lead me to this answer. – Peter Turner Jan 6 at 4:17
  • @PeterTurner "you may also still be wrong" Possibly. Proving the non-existence of something (that the Church hasn't even considered a tattoo a sacramental) is more difficult than proving its existence. – Geremia Jan 6 at 18:12
  • I was thinking that by a less rigid definition of sacramental, at least, a person's body might be considered sacramental, then you'd only have to consider whether or not the tattoo was a part of someone's body or not – Peter Turner Jan 6 at 18:52

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