Nicola Canali studied in Rome, the subjects Catholic theology and philosophy, he was a seminarian at the Almo Collegio Capranica and received on 31 March 1900, the sacrament of Holy Orders. He then belonged to the staff of the Vatican Secretariat of State, where he provided, among other things, the task of the personal secretary of Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val y Zulueta. 1935 Pope Pius XI appointed him. cardinal deacon with the titular church of San Nicola in Carcere. 1939 gave him Pope Pius XII. the management of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State, from 1941 until his death he was Kardinalgroßpönitentiar.
Besides being a Cardinal Canali has held a number of functions, so he was the first Cardinal Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy grave, and Honour and Devotion Grand Cross - Bailiff of the Order of Malta and 1938-1961 Grand Prior of the Grand Priory of Rome, the Order of Malta. In the latter capacity he tried ( ultimately unsuccessfully) to bring under utilization of a see is vacant, the Grand Master, the Order of Malta under his control to possibly merge it with the Order of the Holy Sepulchre Knight. The associated actions excited in coming to an end pontificate of Pius XII. great sensation and found in Roger Peyrefittes tightly worked novel " Knights of Malta " a literary monument, in which Cardinal Canali, however, not just characterized flattering.
In his role as Cardinal Nicola Canali Protodiakon crowned as the last cardinal, who had only the priesthood, but not received episcopal ordination, on November 4, 1958, Pope John XXIII. ( this issued 1962 motu proprio Cum gravissima, in which it was specified that all the cardinals have to receive episcopal consecration ). Nicola Canali died on August 3, 1961 at the Vatican from a heart attack.