But the earliest express mention of the censing of the altar by Christian priests is in "the works," first quoted in the 6th century, attributed to "Dionysius the Areopagite," the contemporary of St Paul (Acts xvii.
The Hereford missal gives no direction for censing the altar at that time.
York and Hereford ordered no censing at the offertory.
There is not the slightest doubt that the censing of things and persons was first practised as an act of purification, and thus became symbolical of consecration, and finally of the sanctification of the soul.
Exquisite ornament is seen in the triforium arcade, and between some of the arches in the transept are figures, especially finely carved, though much mutilated, known as the censing angels.
The social work of the Church was transferred to others, and little by little the deacons sank in importance until at last they came to be regarded merely as subordinate officers of public worship, a position which they hold in the Roman Church to-day, where their duties are confined to such acts as the following: - censing the officiating priest and the choir, laying the corporal on the altar, handing the paten or cup to the priest, receiving from him the pyx and giving it to the subdeacon, putting the mitre on the archbishop's head (when he is present) and laying his pall upon the altar.