Monday, March 16, 2015

Set Me as a Seal: Tattoos and the Eucharist

The first time I internally realized Who the Eucharist is, I was completely awestruck.

I was at Mass at the local college's Newman Center chapel, sitting in the second row, sort of off to the side, daydreaming. I stared blankly at the white wall, drool probably forming a puddle in the pew in front of me as I knelt during the consecration. I don't remember exactly what I was thinking about, but it probably had something to do with how much I couldn't wait for this all to be over so I could go on with my life. And then, I heard the same words I'd heard a thousand times, and will hear thousands of times for the rest of my life:

"Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world."

My eyes shifted from the white wall to the Host held above the priest's head, and I lost my mind. I was given an overwhelming awareness of the presence of God, not only in, but as the Communion host before me. Trembling, I fumbled my way through the Communion line, worried the entire time that I would fall to the ground before I got to the front. And then, there He was, right in front of my face. My heart pounded before its Master; "My Lord and my God."

I returned to my seat in a daze, and if I recall correctly, I started to cry. I felt so loved, so blessed, so honored that the God of the ages would become so small, so vulnerable, that He would unite His flesh to mine. "Set me as a seal on your heart." Song of Songs 8:6

When people have asked me why I have tattoos if my body is a temple, I have had a difficult time processing what they're asking. When I think of a temple, I don't think of plain, untouched walls. Even the white-walled Newman Center chapel I mentioned earlier is riddled with religious art and icons and statues and even a stained glass window. Catholics are in the habit of decorating sacred spaces, not to degrade them, but to let all who enter see for Whom it is set apart.

So, it makes sense to me that every time I've wanted a tattoo, it's been because I want a permanent, visible reminder of Who I belong to, and who my body is set apart for. If my body belongs to Christ, let it be marked for Christ; if my body is a temple for the Holy Spirit, let its walls speak to His glory and power. "Set me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm." Song of Songs 8:6

My body is a tabernacle; my Lord dwells here, physically, at least every Sunday, and sometimes during the week, in the gift of the Eucharist. I am glad to have the indelible marks of the sacraments on my soul, but I need indelible marks on my flesh, as a reminder to me and a sign to everyone who sees me that I belong to Jesus and not to this world.

My tattoos, in a way, unite my flesh to the concepts they represent. They remind me that Satan can be beaten, that God never gives up on me, that God keeps His promises even to broken people, and that God has power over the darkness in my life which is often suffocating.

My tattoos are not distractions from the purpose of my body; my tattoos enhance my experience of the One to whom my body and my soul belong.

And even more than my tattoos unite my flesh to the concepts they represent, the Eucharist unites the flesh of God to my own. This reality dazzles me, and I want nothing more than to surrender my whole flesh to the Lord who fashioned it. Just as churches and sanctuaries are often filled with statues gazing upward, paintings drawing us in, and relics kept in altars, let the marks on my body serve to remind all who see them who the Lord of this body is, and Whose House it is. Let them remind me that God is good to me, that He comes to save me, that His desire is for me, that the yearning of His flesh and soul is to be in communion with my own. Let them serve the same purpose as works of art in any other temple belonging to the Lord.

And let me never forget that even should I die and the stars be thrust to the earth and the mountains crumble to dust, the love of the Lord for me will remain forever, more permanent than ink and deeper than every layer of skin.


  1. Beautifully said... had me in tears too...

  2. AMAZING. I have one tattoo, but am planning on more. This is sososososo beautiful <3

  3. As a tattooed Catholic, I approve.