The drought is over. After two years, the Diocese of Little Rock finally has a new bishop, and his name is Anthony Basil Taylor. He was ordained Thursday, June 5 at the Statehouse Convention Center in downtown Little Rock.
During the Mass, Msgr. J. Gaston Hebert, diocesan administrator, could not hide his jubilation as he presented the bishop-elect for ordination, calling him "the answer to our prayers."
He told Oklahoma City Archbishop Eusebius J. Beltran "the faithful of the Diocese of Little Rock have eagerly awaited a new shepherd for two years like dry weary land without water, and no one has been more thirsty than I." Laughter and applause followed breaking the solemn tone of the occasion.
"On this truly historic day I am honored to lift up the voices of the Catholic people of Arkansas asking you to ordain Anthony Basil Taylor as the seventh bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock," Msgr. Hebert said.
The mandate from Pope Benedict XVI appointing Bishop Taylor to the Arkansas diocese was read by Archbishop Pietro Sambi, papal nuncio to the United States. Msgr. Hebert held up the apostolic letter for all to see and again, a loud applause met his gesture.
More than 3,400 people attended the 2 p.m. ordination and installation held in the Governor's Hall. The altar for the Mass was set up on a stage the size of a basketball court. Flowers and silk plants adorned this sanctuary while a huge gold cross attached from the ceiling hovered over the altar. Above Bishop Taylor's "cathedra" (chair), was his coat of arms revealing the motto, "The Humble Shall Inherit the Earth."
Two large video screens allowed the assembly, seated on the floor, to see what was happening from anywhere in the hall. A 300-member diocesan choir accompanied by musicians from two symphony orchestras led hymns and Mass parts in Greek, Latin, English and Spanish.
Bishop Taylor, 54, formerly a priest in Oklahoma City, was named bishop of Little Rock on April 10. The Diocese of Little Rock, which encompasses all of Arkansas, falls under the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.
The ordination was the highlight of a series of events to install and welcome the new bishop to Arkansas. A vespers service was held at Christ the King Church in Little Rock on June 4. Prior to the ordination, a luncheon was held for the bishop, his family and visiting bishops at the Capitol Hotel across the street from the convention center. Bishop Taylor celebrated his first Mass at the Cathedral of St. Andrew on Sunday, June 8 and another for diocesan staff at St. John Center on Monday, June 9.
During his homily at the ordination Mass, Archbishop Beltran, principal consecrator, described the important role of a bishop before turning his attention to Bishop-elect Taylor.
The Lord is "appointing you a successor of his apostles with the same assurance that he gave them. 'I will be with you always.' As a man of faith, sacrifice and prayer, rely on the Lord God always for he will never abandon you," the archbishop said.
He told the bishop-elect he would not be alone because the Lord was not "sending you to a barren desert, but to a well cultivated field" of faith and Catholic tradition.
"I know you welcome your new bishop with great enthusiasm," Archbishop Beltran said, speaking to the assembly. "I would like to show him your willingness to be an active contributor to the good work he has committed to as bishop of Little Rock."
"Bishop Taylor, I want you to look, because here are some of the many people waiting anxiously to help you," the archbishop said.
He asked Catholics from Arkansas to stand as they were called. First, it was the priests, then religious men and women, deacons, teachers, catechists, diocesan staff, parish staff, volunteers, etc. He continued until he humorously pointed out that the only people left sitting were "the Oklahoma people."
"Bishop Taylor, we promise you our prayers and our support as you now prepare for this ordination. May the good Lord bless you now and always," he said.
The rite of episcopal ordination continued with the ancient practice of examining the candidate, during which Bishop-elect Taylor promised to carry out the responsibilities of his office, which include preaching the Gospel, guarding the deposit of the faith and "to be welcoming and merciful to the poor, to strangers and to all those who are in need."
Co-consecrators were Bishops J. Peter Sartain of Joliet, Ill. and Edward Slattery of Tulsa, Okla.
Archbishop Beltran ordained Bishop Sartain the sixth bishop of Little Rock in 2000. He served until 2006 when Pope Benedict XVI appointed him to Joliet. Since then, the Little Rock Diocese has been without a bishop and Msgr. Hebert has served as administrator.
Following the examination, the choir led the litany of the saints and Bishop-elect Taylor laid prostrate before the assembly that prayed for him.
The laying on of hands followed, which is the formal act of ordination. Archbishop Beltran and the other 12 bishops present laid hands on the bishop-elect's head as they prayed for him silently. The choir sang, "Veni Sancte Spiritus," which means, "Come Holy Spirit."
Deacons John Marschewski and Robert Wanless held the Book of the Gospels over the newly ordained bishop's head as Archbishop Beltran prayed the consecratory prayer. Then he anointed Bishop Taylor's head with sacred chrism, the oil used in the sacraments of initiation, holy orders and acts of dedication.
The archbishop presented the bishop with the Book of the Gospels instructing him to preach the Word of God with patience and faithfulness.
Bishop Taylor was given his episcopal ring, miter and shepherd's staff, the symbols of his office, which were blessed by the archbishop at the vespers service June 4.
The rite of ordination concluded when Bishop Taylor sat in his cathedra. The bishop's chair represents his teaching authority in a diocese. As he approached the chair, the lights in the hall went out and spotlights over his head came on once he was seated.
Loud applause and cheers greeted him followed by hugs (called the kiss of peace) from his fellow bishops. And the choir sang Mozart's "Alleluia" from Exsultate Jubilate, Movement 3.
At the end of the Mass, Bishop Taylor walked among the assembly blessing them. Afterwards, speaking first in English and then in Spanish, he shared his gratitude for "the overwhelmingly affirming response" he had received from thousands of people congratulating him on his appointment.
"Now I see many of you here today. People from over who have taken off work, used up precious vacation time, sacrificed a day's income, paid the cost of transportation, and in many cases, overnight lodging to be with me here today," he said.
"In all of you I have experienced, first-hand, what St. Paul describes in First Corinthians 12:26, 'If one of the parts of the body of Christ are honored, all the parts share its joy.'" he said to applause.
"For that too, I feel humbled and grateful. My one request is that you pray for me and for our Diocese of Little Rock, that God will make me a good bishop, holy and wise, faithful to the Lord, whatever the cost."
He thanked Archbishop Beltran for being his mentor and pledged to continue to seek his counsel in learning how to be a good bishop.
He thanked Msgr. Francis I. Malone, pastor of Christ the King Church in Little Rock, who organized the ordination events, and Msgr. Hebert for his "wise administration" of the diocese.
"I know that Bishop Sartain and Bishop McDonald before him are excellent bishops and left you a diocese in great shape. But I also know that a lot can happen in two years," he said humorously.
"It's nice to come to a diocese that is one of the plum dioceses of the United States," he added.
Turning his attention to the priests of Arkansas, he said, "You are now my priests. You share in my priesthood. I am convinced that together we'll be able to do great things for the Lord, great things for the Church, great things for the people of Arkansas, so long as we remain faithful to Jesus and seek to follow his way of truth and life."
To hear an excerpt from Bishop Taylor's ordination service, click here to go to the bishop's page.
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