"You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh, for the dead, neither shall you make in yourselves any figures or marks: I am the Lord" (Leviticus 19:28).
The above section of Scripture is taken from the Douay Rheims Scriptures. Some Scripture translations explictly refer to tattoos. Let's take the RSV-CE for instance for the same line from Leviticus: "You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh on account of the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the LORD."
While it is true that the above prohibition against tattoos was written in the context of the Old Testament Law (the Mosaic Law). While this Law is no longer in force by reason of Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross, we do have to keep in mind the words of the Redeemer Himself: “Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).
While the Old Testament laws on farming and which crops to keep in your field are no longer in place and while the Laws prohibiting the consumption of pork are no longer in place, all of these Old laws had their fulfillment in the Law of Christ. Christ came to perfect the Law. He abolished divorce that was allowed under the Law of Moses in order to perfect the Laws of Matrimony (cf. Matthew 19:8). Christ also showed us in driving the swine off the cliff that the prohibition on pork was symbolic on the prohibition against sin. And ultimately these Laws were all done to make the People of God, the Israelites, a holy people set apart from the other nations. If these were God’s holy people and a special race set aside, then they had to act differently than the other pagan races that were in the ancient world. Therein lies one of the chief reasons why there were Laws and why we have Laws – to keep us as a special people united to God and separate from those who are not of God.
As a result, while the Leviticus prohibition on tattoos is no longer explicitly prohibited by virtue of the Mosaic Law, tattoos still remain offensive and Catholics should refrain from them? Why? Just as the Old Law set aside the People of God for holy things, so too we must set ourselves aside and refrain from certain actions. What makes tattoos wrong?
In the New Testament we have the revelation of the Son of God and have received the fruits of His redemptive and efficacious Sacrifice on the Cross. The Church was founded on Pentecost at the Descent of the Holy Ghost, who Christ sent as His Advocate; and we who have been baptized and Confirmed have received within us the gifts of the Holy Ghost. In this way, we are truly Temples of the Holy Ghost (i.e. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). As such, we must treat our bodies worthily. We are not to dress immodestly or give in to sensual pleasures of the flesh, as do the pagans and those who are not of God. And we too must refrain from tattooing our bodies by virtue of the fact that they are Temples of the Holy Ghost and created in the image of God.
“Know you not, that your (bodily) members are the temple of the Holy Ghost, who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own (property)? For you are bought with a great price. Glorify and bear God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
In an online article Fr. Stephen Somerville addressed much of the above points in his own words. His conclusion is worth repeating here:
“Is, then, the mark of tattooing lawful for the Catholic? Not wishing to exaggerate what may be a small matter, I judge that I speak with the mind of the Church when I say that tattooing is at least unseemly for a Catholic. It surely could weaken Faith in Christ for one to place a non-Christ permanent mark on his body. Our body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, says St. Paul. Let that temple be preserved from unworthy marks”Image Source: Pinterest