For the first time in 30 years Poland's vast Roman Catholic congregation will hear the Christmas mass broadcast this Christmas Eve. Right from radio's infancy here, the Christmas mass had been an institution. Broadcasting of the mass was resumed for a few years after the interruption of World War II, but then fell victim amid the many pressures exerted on the Roman Catholic Church in the Stalinish period.
Until now the church has tried in vain to have the radio mass restored.
The service transmitted to the nation live from the cathedral at Krakow (Pope John Paul II's former archbishopric) on Wednesday night will mark a second significant concession in church-state relations since the August crisis and the fears this aroused of possible Soviet reactions.
Permission for a weekly radio mass for the benefit of aged and infirm was a condition laid down by the largely Catholic workers in negotiations with the government to end the strikes.It is now a feature of Sunday broadcasting.
Three times in the past 25 years, popular revolt has shaken Poland's ruling Communist Party and three times it has had to acknowledged grave failures, turn to new leadership, and enlist the support of the church.
Each time -- in 1956, in 1970, and again this summer -- the church and its indomitable primate, Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, proved the major factor saving the country from possible threat to its sovereignty and to the modest liberties it has gained in its three decades of communist rule.
The cardinal, in fact, is the one Catholic leader to have not only survived by resisting postwar communist pressures to tame the church in Eastern Europe but also to have succeeded in preserving its influence unimpaired.
After the 1948 communist coup in Czechoslovakia, Prague's Archbishop Jozef Beran was removed to rural exile for nearly 20 years before retirement to Rome. Tito's Yugoslavia jailed Aloysius Cardinal Stepinac for almost as long and only freed him finally to exile in a village parish. Hungary's primate, Cardinal Jozef Mindszenty, was first imprisoned and then, after the 1956 uprising, spent many years in self-chosen sanctuary in the US Embassy in Budapest till he, too, was released to Rome.
Poland's Cardinal Wyszynski became primate in 1949. So stubbornly did he oppose Stalinist authorities' attacks on the Church that in 1953 they banished him to a rural retreat where he was confined until the "Polish October" of 1956 forced a dramatic change in the party leadership.
The new first secretary, Wladyslaw Gomulka, brought the exile back to the capital and for the next few years the two worked together in an effort to unify and improve the situation in the country.
There were concessions to the church and a good relationship developed until Gomulka adopted an increasingly touchy line against the intellectuals, then the students, and finally provoked the workers into the December 1970 food riots that drove him from office.
Again the primate was called to help pacify the country, this time by Mr. Gomulka's successor, Edward Gierek. He made church support conditional on new concessions and won them.
But the motivation, as in 1956 and again this summer, was essentially "Realpolitik." That is, if Poland is to avoid the risk of Soviet intervention in its internal troubles and to preserve even its present relative domestic latitude, it can do so only through national unity and mutual compromise.
Three times in Poland's present crisis, the cardinal has been the unseen but virtually decisive voice in moderating the nationwide feelings aroused by the strikes and the workers' awareness of their strength.
Cardinal Wyszynski's televised appeal to them in August to go back to work, following government assurances, was too late to help Mr. Gierek.
But without any doubt -- and privately party members admit it -- he has been the consistent factor in helping the new party leadership under Stanislaw Kania carry conviction with the population in at least two crucial spells when the country seemed to hover on the brink of some worse disaster.
When an early November dispute over the Solidarity Union's registration looked dangerously intractable, Mr. Kania sought an urgent meeting with Cardinal Wyszynski to tell him that, unless the union would agree to formal acknowledgement of the party's leading role, the government had no option but to call a state of emergency as the only means of safeguarding the national interest.
Next day the primate called in Solidarity's leaders. His influence with the movement is evident. Chairman Lech Walesa is a devout Catholic, adhering to his daily attendance at early-morning mass wherever he was at the most difficult times of the crisis. Many of his co-leaders and many of Solidarity's advisers are Catholics, too.
Within a month, a worse crisis developed: The possibility of a Soviet military movement loomed in the background. Solidarity was issued a sober warning by the party. The anniversary of the December 1970 shootings at Baltic ports -- and emotion-filled commemorations for them -- approached.
Again the church intervened. A bishops' conference called for calm and warned union militants and dissidents against provocative actions or statements aimed at the Soviet Union. The churches began what is to continue through Christmas and into the New Year: the Sunday reading of a special prayer for unity to ensure the security and sovereignty of the nation.
At this writing, it seems to be working. The commemorations, which the regime had viewed with some nervousness but finally decided to join with a show of contrition for the past and renewed pledges for reform, passed off without untoward incident of any kind.
This church-state "alliance" may not be a "historic compromise" politically. But it is an understanding. When Mr. Kania says, "There are limits which cannot be crossed" -- that is, without provoking Soviet interference -- and a Catholic spokesman says, "We must live with what we have," the Communist state and the Catholic Church are speaking pretty much on the same wave length.