The Episcopal gloves or Pontifical gloves (chirothecœ, called also at an earlier date manicœ, wanti) are a Roman Catholic pontifical vestment worn a by bishop when celebrating Solemn Pontifical Mass. The Episcopal gloves are worn from the beginning of the Mass until the offertory, when they are removed. The gloves can be elaborately embroidered, and they generally match the liturgical color of the Mass, except that they are not worn for Good Friday or Requiem Masses. While the episcopal gloves are normally reserved for bishops, other prelates that are entitled to use pontificals, including abbots, may use them as well without a special papal privilege.
While the use of the Episcopal gloves is still permitted in the Ordinary Form of the Mass, they are very rarely seen in that context. Most often, the Episcopal gloves are seen in the context of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, commonly referred to as the Tridentine Mass. The gloves are considered symbolic of purity, the performance of good works and carefulness in procedure.
The Caeremoniale Episcoporum, as revised in 1984, no longer imposes on bishops of the Roman Catholic Church the use of episcopal gloves when celebrating Mass solemnly, but they are still used in such celebrations of the Tridentine Mass form of the Roman Rite. Traditionalist Catholic bishops, including Sedevacantist bishops, often make a point of using them to signify their rejection of liturgical changes introduced since the Second Vatican Council, though they would be using them anyway, as they are required dress for the celebration of the Tridentine Mass. Anglo-Catholic and Old Catholic bishops also sometimes make use of the Episcopal gloves, especially when celebrating forms of the Tridentine Mass.
Episcopal gloves are used only at a Pontifical Mass, and then only up to the washing of the hands before the Eucharistic Sacrifice. In the former rite of consecration of a bishop the consecrator, aided by the assisting bishops, put the gloves on him just after the Blessing.
Episcopal gloves at the present day are knitted by machine or hand-woven from silk thread. They are normally ornamented on the back with a cross; the border of the opening for the hand is also, as a rule, embellished. The colour of the gloves must correspond with the liturgical colour of the feast or day in the services of which they are worn; episcopal gloves, however, are never black, as they are not used on Good Friday nor at a Mass for the dead.
The use of episcopal gloves became customary at Rome probably in the tenth century, outside of Rome they were employed somewhat earlier. Apparently they were first used in France, as the earliest traces of the custom are found in this country, whence it gradually spread into all other parts and eventually to Rome. The chief reason for the introduction of the usage was probably the desire to provide a suitable adornment for the hands of the bishop, rather than practical considerations such as the preservation of the cleanliness of the hands etc. Episcopal gloves appertained originally to bishops, but at an early date their use was also granted to other ecclesiastics, thus no later than 1070 the abbot of the monastery of San Pietro in Cielo d'Oro at Pavia received this privilege, the first certain instance of such permission.
In the Middle Ages these gloves were either knitted or otherwise produced with the needle, or else they were made of woven material sewed together; the former way seems to have been the more usual. Gloves made by both methods are still in existence, as for example, in Saint-Sernin at Toulouse, at Brignoles, in S. Trinità at Florence, in the cathedrals of Halberstadt and Brixen, in New College at Oxford, Conflens in Savoy and other places. In the later Middle Ages it became customary to enlarge the lower end, giving it the appearance of a cuff or gauntlet, and even to form the cuff with a long joint which hung downwards and was decorated with a tassel or little bell. The back of the glove was always ornamented, sometimes with an embroidered medallion or some other form of needlework, sometimes with a metal disk having on it a representation of the Lamb of God, a cross, the Right Hand of God, Saints etc., the disk being sewn on to the glove, or, at times, the ornamentation was of pearls and precious stones. The gloves were generally made of silk thread or woven fabric, rarely of woollen thread, sometimes of linen woven material. Up to the end of the Middle Ages the usual colour was white, although the gloves at New College, Oxford, are red; apparently it was not until the sixteenth century that the ordinances as to liturgical colours were applied to episcopal gloves. Even in the Middle Ages the occasions on which the gloves were worn were not many, but their use was not so limited as later, for in the earlier period they were occasionally worn at the pontifical Mass after Communion, at solemn offices and during processions.
- "Episcopal Gloves". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06589a.htm.
- Episcopal gloves Discussion and photographs