Francis, who has consistently shunned papal pomp and protocol, railed against an "ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy ... without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God's faithful people."
"In this way, the life of the Church turns into a museum piece or something which is the property of a select few," he warned.
Hinting at potentially far-reaching reforms in the Vatican's male-dominated world, the pope called for "a more incisive female presence in the Church," especially "where important decisions are made."
At the same time, he signaled an intention to delegate power to bishops around the globe, going as far as saying that the pope should not "be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the church and the world."
Francis also renewed his well-known criticism of unbridled capitalism, denouncing inequality as "the root of social ills."
He said there would be "no solution" to world ills until "the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality."
While pleading for better relations with Jews and Muslims, he "humbly" asked Islamic countries "to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith." He noted that "authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence."
On family issues, the pope reasserted the church's traditional stances.
Speaking out against divorce, he said marriage "transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple" and criticized those who see it "as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will."
On abortion, he said it was "not 'progressive' to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life." But he added that the church had "done little" to support women "in very difficult situations," such as those suffering from extreme poverty or pregnant from rape.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Francis penned most of the apostolic exhortation in August when he refused to go on summer holidays.
It is the second major publication of his papacy after July's encyclical "The Light of Faith." That document, by the Vatican's own admission, was written almost entirely by his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.