Q — Many people express love for their Catholic faith through body adornment, like large artistic tattoos that depict Our Lady of Guadalupe or crosses. Where does the church stand on these types of tattoos?
A — Devotion to our Blessed Lady has existed since the New Testament period — one thinks of St. Luke’s Annunciation narrative, for example. This devotion continued to develop in the second century especially with the immensely popular text, the Gospel of James (about mid second century). This was popular among many ordinary Christians, and essentially is an apocryphal narrative woven around the fictitious infancy and childhood of Our Lady. The real point of this text is its witness to growing Marian devotion. When Christian art begins to emerge, especially in the East, icons of Mary abound, and they too witness to Marian devotion.
Medals struck in honor of Mary became very popular in the eighteenth century, and, indeed right up to the present day. The church, which sees — in line with Vatican II’s “Constitution on the Church” (the final chapter of the document) — Mary as an image or type of the Church itself provided a new departure for reflection on and devotion to Mary. The Marian tradition of devotion continues to grow and develop. It is hardly surprising that at a time when tattoos have become very fashionable that religious tattoos have also become immensely popular. In formal terms the Church neither endorses nor disapproves changing artistic fashions of Marian devotion, and that includes tattoos.