Poland is once again at a watershed of sorts. On the face of it, it may seem that the Pope's visit to his homeland and the massive outpouring of popular support for him have solidified an intractable political stalemate. Yet the reverse could prove to be the case. The controlled nature of the mass demonstrations and the pontiff's two meetings with General Jaruzelski may actually strengthen the regime's efforts to reach some sort of national understanding, however tenuous, and to get the country working once again. Harbingers of possible progress are official hints in Warsaw of lifting martial law next month - and talk in Western capitals of lifting sanctions on Poland and resuming aid if martial law is in fact ended.
This is a course earnestly to be wished for the freedom-loving Polish people.
In the wake of the papal pilgrimage, it is clear that the heroic Solidarity movement is over. The spirit of Solidarity will endure, but the union will not go on as an organization. The Roman Catholic leader, playing a political as much as a religious role, responded to the people's loyalty to their outlawed movement. He allied himself with their yearnings for freedom. He kept alive their hopes for the future. But he gave them no encouragement to provoke the government and continue the battle. Indeed, he made clear that all Poles - government and people - share in the responsibility of saving the nation and that Poles have duties as well as rights.
For the communist authorities in Warsaw and Moscow, it must be galling that, out of the turbulent events of the recent years, the Roman Catholic Church has emerged dominant. The communists thought they could secularize society and erode the traditional influence of the church. But, little by little, as the regime failed in its purposes and goals, the church, steering a pragmatic line between state and population, has grown stronger. The fact that such huge crowds turned out for the papal visit demonstrated that the government has not won the hearts and minds of the Polish people. It may continue to rule, but it does so without their allegiance.
It cannot be assumed that General Jaruzelski is displeased with the outcome of the papal journey, however. It did pass without incident, enabling him to say that things are returning to ''normal.'' That is now the official line, bolstering hope that martial law will soon be lifted. The visit also enables the general to argue with the Kremlin that, unless he moves in the direction of moderation which the church wants him to go, the Polish people will simply dig in their heels. Hence for the short term at least the hand of Polish communist hard-liners, who opposed the visit and have resisted a conciliatory course, may be weakened. Moscow is grumbling but it, too, has had the lesson that in Poland the Pope does not need those military ''divisions'' which Stalin disdainfully noted he lacked.
It will be an uneasy road ahead. But, if the church keeps radical sentiment from pushing Poland to the brink again, and if Jaruzelski adopts a restrained posture, it is possible that a dialogue can be renewed and a national agreement gradually forged. The Pope and the general appear to have come to terms in their face-to-face meetings. And while Lech Walesa, the courageous founder of the banned union who also met with the pontiff, insists he will continue to play a political role, it is likely to be largely symbolic.
The communist government, in sum, cannot hope to gain popularity. But, with the politically astute help of the church, it may win a more cooperative attitude from Polish workers. Once the West sees enough change in the political atmosphere to warrant resuming its aid, Poland could get a fresh start.