Antonio Paolucci, the Vatican museum director, criticised contemporary-style churches for lacking "form" and harked back to the Baroque era when he said that shrines embodied religious faith.
Award-winning architect Richard Meier's Church of God the Merciful Father in Rome "could just as well be a museum in Texas or an auditorium in Melbourne", he wrote in the Vatican's official Osservatore Romano daily.
Paolucci, who is also the head of cultural heritage for the Vatican, said what was lucking in these structures was the "church form".
"The beautiful, functional, symbolically efficient building that can serve as a model still does not exist, or at least I have not found it," he said.
Paolucci said that religious faith in Russia survived through 70 years of Communist atheism thanks to the many churches that were preserved.
The Vatican official said he spoke about the matter with Rome mayor Gianni Alemanno and the cardinal vicar of Rome Agostino Vallini this week at the presentation of a book illustrating 45 new churches built in the Italian capital since 2000.
Paolucci is not the first Vatican voice to criticise contemporary churches.
Vatican culture chief Gianfranco Ravasi has said many modern churches are "inhospitable" and even compared them to "pretentious and vulgar houses" that were as alienating as a concert hall.