The 40,000 Americans who, according to a U.S. consular official in Cracow, hope to visit Poland during the pope's triumphal return to his native soil June 2-12, were not required to furnish proof of a place to stay in order to get a visa.

But that was one of a number of measures the Poles reportedly considered in an effort to reduce what they fear may be an overwhelming influx of tourists, in addition to thousands of foreign journalists and officials.

This was not, as some may suppose, a ploy on the part of the Marxist government to keep away the faithful or to cover up the religious fervor of the Polish people. Even Monsignor Dumbrowski of the Warsaw Episcopate, the Church's chief liaison officer with the government in charge of arrangements for the tour, urged in a recent interview, "Tell your people to stay home and watch it all on television."

Interest in this historic papal vist is so great, both within Poland and throughout the world, that clergy and government alike fear that what was first expected to be a triumphant testament of faith may, in fact, turn out to be helpless chaos. The country simply does not have the resources to handle the hundreds of thousands - perhaps millions - expected to coverage on the route of tour.Even if no foreigners were to come, the crush of polish Catholics (94 percent of the population) wanting to have a firsthand look at their pope at every stop would be problem enough, since he is not only their Holy Father but an adored native son. And while withholding visas from Western tourists who do not have advance rooming arrangements might have reduced the influx somewhat, neither passports nor visas are necessary for those coming across the open borders from Communist Czechoslovakia and East Germany (though from the East, Lithuania and the former Polish territory now within the Soviet Union, crossings are restricted).

Only important Church dignitaries and foreign journalists can hope to be housed in hotels: In Warsaw, the country's largest city, there are only 2,500 hotels beds and Cracow has only 600. Student hostels are to be turned into dormitories; "tent cities" will be set up in fields and meadows, using army tents, cots and blankets, and through a clerical chain of command a listing of private homes with rooms for tourists is being compiled.

Special invitations have been issued to 300,000 individuals to attend the outdoor celebration of Mass in Cracow, a city of 700,000, and where all these VIPs will be put up is still an unanswered question. Tickets are required in all four cities on the official tour for attendance at the masses, though all will take place in the place in the open.

Transportation is another horrendous problem. The pope will fly overhead by helicopter, with rotating blades noisy enough to proclaim his presence all along the way. This was a suggestion of a cardinal who was with him in Mexico and witnessed the plodding progress through mobs there. But the roads will be so crowded by his entourage and the journalists covering this historic event that all primary roads are reserved for their limousines and buses. Everyone else - pilgrims, tourists and the merely curious - will be shunted off to secondary roads. There is only one extensive, divided 4-lane highway in all Poland, gas pumps are few and far between and the gas supply is critically limited.

One reason for the imposition of a controversial $350 visa charge or "tax" for every protests from the press was to discourage so many from coming. (A Polish Embassy spokesman suggested that the $350 would have been cheaper, since journalists will now have to pay a premium price for every service, including Telex.)

There is agonized speculation that 4,000 or 5,000 foreign journalists might descend upon the country, and if this should happen at least 100 buses would be needed for 4,000 reporters - which dosen't include vehicles for the dignitaries and visiting clergy. And if one bus should break down on a two-lane highway, all behind it would be backed up. Railroad cars can be used for part of the entourage, also domestic planes, but these carriers, too, will be overtaxed.

Food and beverage shortages are also a specter. Imported items such as coffee and orange juice are already scarce and overpriced; at the official rate of exchange, coffee in first-class hotels and restaurants costs the equivalent of $2.50 a cup. When orange juice was ordered recently in a hotel dining room, the charge for a carafe of canned, not fresh, juice, was the equivalent of $4. Those able to get a visa would be well-advised to take along instant coffee and fruit-flavored beverage powders, as well as canned meat and other foods permitted through customs.

Americans staying with Polish relatives may be steered to inexpensive public eating places or will learn to carry bag lunches. A favorite Polish snack is American-style hot dogs sold from street vendors or streetside vending outlets for 7.50 zlotys (about 24 cents) for the plain, 10 zlotys for a delicious crisp seeded bun. There are plans to set up portable snakc bars where hot dogs and other quick foods can be dispensed, both in the cities and at the shrines, but fear of bread and meat shortages has already inspired hoarding.

Even a water shortage could develop; because tap water is not always safe for drinking, bottled mineral water is served and supplies of this could be quickly exhausted by thirsty crowds waiting for hours under the sun.

Americans can contribute to the Polish economy and make things more comfortable for themselves by going supplied with a generous amount of bills in small denominiations, for despite dire warnings on the part of officialdom, the black market operates openly. In contrast to the official rates of 30 zlotys to the dollar, 100 to a dollar is an accepted rate. Even officials have been known to offer such an exchange on the sly, and whenever tourists are spotted, black marketeers young and old find an excuse to sidle up.

Officially shopkeepers are forbiden to accept dollars in payment for goods except in the so-called "dollar stores" (which carry products not available elsewhere), but in practice many shops welcomedollars under the counter and offer change in the 100-1 rate. Street peddlers openly quote prices in dollars for their wares. Dollar tips are accepted avidly; in bars, drinks may often be bought with dollars.

That the government is fully aware of thsese deals is quite apparent. Several times on a recent visit, peddlers were seen negotiates deals right under the noses of officials who literally turned their heads the other way. This abusrdity is tolerated because 30-1 rate is unrelistic. Dollars and other hard (meaning Western) currencey are desperately needed the for Poland's fragile and still-undeveloped economy. The only "must" for the tourist is to make sure before departing through customs that most, if not all, thje zlotys have been spent; otherwise, not only will obviously excess zlotys be confiscated, but a fine up to $1,000 may be imposed.

The pope's itinerary calls for one and one-half days in Warsaw, the only city tha can accommodate the great crowds. From here John Paul II and his entourage will go to Gniezo, 200 miles to the west, the first capital of Poland and the place where Christianity was introduced in the year 966. The next official stop is at the monastery of Jasna Gora near Czestochowa, site of annual pilgrimages because the precious Black Madonna, one of the most sacred relics of Poland, is preserved there.

The fourth stop is Cracow, the second city to serve as Poland's capital, between the 13th and 16th centuries. Here the pope will remain for four nights, making several daytime side trips.

Cracow holds an especial place in the pope's heart because he attended Cracow's 600-year-old Jagiellonian University, was consecrated bishop in the city's gothic Wawel Cathedral in 1958, and was named a cardinal while here in 1969. During his stay, he and his entourage will be put up in the marble-halled Wawel Castle, a prime tourist attraction in this charming medieval city which was fortunate enough to escape the brutal Nazi destruction that leveled Warsaw.

Three planned side trips from Cracow each have special symbolism for John Paul II. One is his birthplace, the 12,000-population town of Wadowice, about 30 miles southwest of Cracow. Both the house where he was born, and the church across the street where he was baptized as Karol Wojtyla in 1920, have been freshly painted and restored in preparation for his vist. The priest who was his teacher for six years is still spiritual head of the parish and those in the town who are not kinfolk all have some other claim of close friendship.

A second side trip will be to Nowa Targ in the foothills of the High Tatra Mountains, the nearest airstrip to the popular resort of Zakopane where the pope has spent many happy hours skiing and mountain climbing. He has expressed a desire to have a half day to himself in his mountains, a request that has caused helpess headshaking. Zakopane lies on the Czech border, and when the pope reaches here, a good many Czechoslovak Catholics are likely to find their way across the zigzag border and over the steep, wooded slopes, with or without the approval of border guards.

A third side trip is scheduled to Nowy Huta, a steelworkers' "model community" whose large, very modern church was built as the result of unremitting personal effort on the part of John Paul II, beginning in 1967. It took 10 years to complete the church because of government opposition at every step, so for him to celebrate mass here as pope will be a special triumph.

The most remarkable aspect of the forthcoming papal vist is that in contrast to the bitter wrangling of earlier years, this time the government has cooperated witht he clergy to an unprecedented degree. The clergy have had to back down on some requests. First they suggested that the pope come for the celebration of St. Stanislaw's Day, which this year fell May 13. This was rejected by the government, perhaps because of a wish to avoid involving the Communist government with the celebration of a major Christian holiday.

But now Church officials concede that June is a better time. It allows more time for preparation and milder weather will be an asset to those sleeping in tents or making long journeys on foot to get close to the pope's magic presence. A second point on which the clergy have had to yield is having Interpress, the government-controlled news agency, handle all translations and interpretations of events, since only the government can set up the extensive communication facilities needed, including 700 or more Telex and television lines.

Church militia will join soldiers from the army as volunteer traffic policemen. Nuns and priest will assist doctors, nurses and medical students in manning first-aid stations. To alleviate the housing problem, priests in individual parishes have selected representative pilgrims to attend ceremonies in the nearest cities and shrines, and will arrange accomodations and transportation for their own groups.

Both sides will draw great sighs of relief when the papal tour is over. All business is expected to come to a standstill in Cracow during the four days the pope spends there, hoarding has already begun in anticipation that shops will be emptied, and the job of cleaning up afterward promises to be gigantic.

As always, some will profit: For window space along the processional route in Cracow, as much as 2,000 zlotys per person ( $70 at the official rate of exchange) is being asked by residents or owners of such buildings. Souvenir peddlers will undoubtedly do a thriving business.

Not the least of the government's worries is that the feared chaos might hurt rather than help, future tourism in a country that is eager to welcome vistors from the West - especially those from America, for whom Poles cherish a particular fondness.

Wasson, an author an former journalist, free-lances from Arlington. CAPTION: Picture 1, Pope John Paul II, photo by AP;

Picture 2, and a street scene in Cracow's Old Town market square above, photo by John Metelsky.