The anniversary is the columnist’s reliable friend. Nothing in the news today worthy of comment? How about the news of 10, 50 or 100 years ago? At this distance only the highlights remain. Just wait until this coming summer when journalists will escape the late August news doldrums by marking the 20th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. (Catholic journalists will recall that St Teresa of Calcutta died the same week.)

Uninspired by today’s leaders? Use the 65th anniversary of the Queen’s accession or the 90th birthday of Benedict XVI to shift attention to more favourable subjects.

Chesterton wrote about the democracy of the dead: “Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to walk about.” Commentators who have never read Chesterton agree with him; the anniversary column frees the writer from the tyranny of what is happening right now.

Every year, by definition, has anniversaries to mark, beginning with the first anniversaries of everything that happened last year. Soon we’ll have stories on Brexit – one year later. Americans are more impatient; they mark the first 100 days of a presidency. But those don’t really count. Milestone anniversaries are what we are after.

There is a bumper crop of major anniversaries in 2017 for the religiously minded. I hope to explore them over the course of this year in these pages.

The one that will get the most attention is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Pope Francis was eager to get the observances underway early, heading to Sweden last Reformation Day to kick off the celebratory (?) year. British Catholics are likely to take a dimmer view of the signal event that divided the Church – and Europe.

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