Virgilio Noè

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Virgilio Cardinal Noè (30 March 1922 – 24 July 2011) was an Italian Catholic prelate.

Styles of
Virgilio Noè
Coat of arms of Virgilio Noè.svg
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal
See Voncaria (Titular)

Early Life and Ministry

Virgilio Noè was born in 1922 in Zelata di Bereguardo, Lombardy, where the house is marked by a commemorative plaque. He studied at the Seminary of Pavia and was ordained a priest on 1 October 1944 by the Bishop of Pavia, Carlo Allorio. After ordination he became parish priest of the parish of San Salvatore in Pavia and founded a youth association with the aim especially of promoting participation in the Liturgy.

In 1948 Bishop, Allorio sent him to Rome for studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University, where he gained a doctorate in ecclesiastical history in 1952,[citation needed] with a thesis entitled La politica religiosa dei re longobardi (The Religious Policies of the Lombard Kings).

On returning to the diocese he taught Ecclesiastical History, Patristics, Liturgy and Art History in the seminaries of Pavia and Tortona. In this period he was also spiritual director in the Collegio Sant'Agostino and the Collegio San Giorgio, and played a leading role in the diocesan liturgical commission. Among the projects undertaken were diocesan Eucharistic Congresses in 1956 and 1964, in the first of which the Archbishop of Milan, Giovanni Battista Montini took part.

Activity in Rome

In the years 1964-1969, starting therefore during the period of the Second Vatican Council, he was in charge of the national Centro di Azione Liturgica (Centre for Liturgical Action) in Rome, and editor of its journal Liturgia. He was also lecturer in Sacred Art at the recently founded Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Sant'Anselmo in the city, and when a commission was formed to revise the papal liturgical celebrations, he was made a member. From 1966 to 1968 he also served as vice-rector of the Pontifical Lombard Seminary (Pontificio Seminario Lombardo dei SS. Ambrogio e Carlo) in Rome.

When the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship (Sacra Congregatio pro Cultu Divino) was established in 1969 to take over the historical brief for liturgical affairs handled since 1588 by the Sacred Congregation of Rites (Sacra Rituum Congregatio), Mons. Noè was appointed its Undersecretary and held the post until the Congregation's short life came to an end. In the meantime, in 1970, Pope Paul VI appointed him Master of ceremonies, a post now renamed for the first time Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations and which he held until his appointment as a bishop in 1982, when Mons. John Magee was appointed to succeed him. In the same period he was chaplain to what is since called the Papal Gendarmeria.

During his period in the office, the challenge for Mons. Noè was to find ways of apply the governing principles and the practical norms of the new liturgical books that were gradually being revised and published to unique circumstances of the papal liturgy. The papal liturgy is in many respects seen as a model, but is also almost always televised and has some papal rites which in the nature of things are peculiar to it. The results of Mons. Noè's work were generally considered a success. The new papal practice which he established was moderate and sober, had dignity, but was devoid of flamboyance. The Masses and the more frequent liturgies for e beatifications and canonizations, but also the special ceremonies called for by the Jubilee of 1975, the funeral of Paul VI and the inauguration of the pontificates of his successors, were all given a new shape. The issuing of tasteful booklets for the people that were collector's items in their own right became a consolidated practice.

Throughout this period, Mons. Noè's career then followed the complicated course of successive partial internal organizations of the Roman Curia. When in the summer of 1975 the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship was amalgamated with the Sacred Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments (Sacra Congregatio de Disciplina Sacramentorum) (founded in 1908 by Pope Pius X) to form a Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship (Sacra Congregatio de Sacramentis et Cultu Divino), Mons. Noè was appointed Undersecretary in charge of liturgical affairs.

Archbishop and Cardinal

On 30 January 1982 Mons. Noè was promoted to the rank of Secretary in the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship (Sacra Congregatio de Sacramentis et Cultu Divino), and simultaneously made Titular Archbishop of Voncaria. He was ordained a bishop on 6 March 1982 in St Peter's Basilica by Pope John Paul II, assisted by Archbishop Eduardo Martínez Somalo and Bishop Antonio Giuseppe Angioni, Bishop of Pavia. Archbishop, later Cardinal, Martínez, was at the time Sostituto or Substitute for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State. In his new rank the now Archbishop Noè had again a particular status within the Congregation as being specifically in charge of a distinct section for Divine Worship.

Between 1984 and 1988 the dicastery was briefly redivided into the Congregation for the Sacraments (Congregatio de Sacramentis) and the Congregation for Divine Worship (Congregatio de Cultu Divino) under a single Prefect. In this new version of the latter, Archbishop Noè was the sole Archbishop Secretary, according to the classic system. Then, as a result of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus of 1988, this move was reversed and there emerged the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (Sacra Congregatio de Cultu Divino de et Disciplina Sacramentorum), which still exists. In this new entity, Archbishop Noè was no longer the sole Archbishop Secretary, but reverted to being once more Archbishop Secretary but in charge of a distinct section for Divine Worship.

The habits of the Roman Curia at the time foresaw what was called the zigzag system, whereby in order to achieve promotion at the higher ranks, it was necessary to move from one dicastery to another, each move being accompanied by a promotion in rank. Based on no private information, but on the known zigzag principle, it was clear that for a further promotion, there had to be a move to some other part of the Curia. In fact, when the building blocks of a wider series of curial changes were in place, Archbishop Noè was soon transferred to a completely different area and became Delegate of the Fabric of St. Peter, an entity that is not part of the Roman Curia, but recognized by the 1988 apostolic constitution Pastor bonus as "closely associated with the Holy See."[1] The appointment took effect on 24 May 1989. In formal terms the new posting was of equivalent rank to Archbishop Noè's previous appointment. However, it was clearly a promotion in that he was now the number two of an organization that had considerable administrative and financial autonomy and a large workforce, perhaps 6-7 times as many as his former Congregation and perhaps 20 times as many as its liturgical section. Moreover, the elderly head of the Fabric of St. Peter, cardinal Aurelio Sabattani (1983-1991), was not then in robust health, so authority resided in practice with Archbishop Noè, who in fact was given additionally the title of Coadjutor Archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica.

The new Delegate took charge and ruled with a firm hand. While the public saw nothing of internal organization matters, it could not but notice how the place gleamed. In a setting where there was in reality limited scope for radical innovation, he nevertheless brought his background in art history and his esthetic good taste to bear. Given his long period of office, which lasted unusually until he reached the age of 80, the cumulative effects of his policies were considerable.

Archbishop Noè was created Cardinal-Deacon of S. Giovanni Bosco in Via Tuscolana in the consistory of 28 June 1991 by Pope John Paul II. Three days later, he was made Archpriest of the St. Peter's Basilica, and hence President of the Fabric of St. Peter. Moreover, as a consequence of the measures established by the papal Chirograph of 14 January 1991 regulating the office of Vicar General of the Vatican City, on becoming Archpriest, he also automatically assumed that post.[2]

From 1993 to 1996 he was additionally President of the Cardinalatial Commission for the Pontifical Shrines of Pompei, Loreto and Bari.

As is the custom, after 10 years as Cardinal-Deacon, Cardinal Noè took the option of petitioning to be elevated to the rank of Cardinal-Priest with the titular church of Regina Apostolorum as of 26 February 2002. He briefly attracted attention when he claimed that Pope Paul VI spoke of the "smoke of Satan" in the Catholic Church, he was referring to priests who celebrated Mass badly.[3]

Death and Burial

On 24 July 2011, Cardinal Noè died in Rome at the age of 89.[4] His funeral Mass was celebrated on 26 July 2011 in the apse of St. Peter's Basilica, by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals and concelebrated by a large number of Cardinals and bishops. He is buried in the cemetery of Campo Verano, Rome.


  1. ^ Pastor Bonus Part IX,, accessed 3 August 2015
  2. ^ "NOÈ, Card. Virgilio". Holy See Press Office. 3 December 2004. Retrieved 18 October 2007. 
  3. ^ Interview with Cardinal Noè: Paul VI's “smoke of Satan” remark concerned liturgy from "What Does The Prayer Really Say?" by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf at PETRUS
  4. ^ "Cardinal, who cared for upkeep of St. Peter's Basilica, other Vatican monuments, dies in Rome". The Washington Post. 24 July 2011. 
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Annibale Bugnini
Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations
9 January 1970–6 March 1982
Succeeded by
John Magee
Preceded by
Aurelio Sabattani
Vicar General of His Holiness for the State of Vatican City
1 July 1991 – 24 April 2002
Succeeded by
Francesco Marchisano
Preceded by
Aurelio Sabattani
Archpriest of the Basilica of Saint Peter
Succeeded by
Francesco Marchisano
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