Who could say that Roman Catholics do not believe in the priesthood? According to your Sept. 7 coverage of the papal visit, "{f}or an outdoor Mass at the University of New Orleans, the diocese is expecting 277,000 celebrants, and only two roads lead to the site."

Access to the campus must have been the least of the difficulties, however. Local officials would have had to construct the world's largest altar platform if they had really planned to host 277,000 "celebrants." It is likely that you have stumbled over ecclesiastical terminology.

A "celebrant" is a priest actually officiating at the Mass, although a Mass may be celebrated by a number of priests acting as concelebrants. One doubts, though, whether as many as 277,000 concelebrants have ever joined together in celebration of a Eucharist. The congregation attending the Mass, on the other hand, is made up of communicants (that is, those who receive communion) or simply of worshipers, those in attendance whether they actually receive communion or merely watch the service.

New Orleans, by the way, is the seat of a Roman Catholic archdiocese, not a diocese. Thus, it is the Archdiocese of New Orleans that had to cope with this ambiguous influx of people.

David Hart Nelson

But Thousands Supported the Pope

You reported {Sept. 14} that "nearly 50 Roman Catholics from dozens of parishes around Washington" met recently to "voice disagreement with" Pope John Paul II's policies. Where was The Post Sept. 12, when thousands of Roman Catholics from the diocese of Arlington alone spent a day of prayer at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington commemorating this Marian Year and praying for the success of the pontiff's visit to the United States? I didn't see that reported.

This is just another example of your biased attempts to portray an entire group as sharing the views of a minority of its members.

Mary Ann Mercer 'The Modern Edge of Elegance'

"The Modern Edge of Elegance" {Magazine, Sept. 13} sends a very disturbing message. While it is tempting to blame the messenger for bad news, this problem goes far beyond what The Post chooses to print.

In reporting on current fashions, Tina Bossidy features models wearing $3,500 cocktail dresses, $1,400 jackets and $1,000 raincoats. One model displays a $5,000 afternoon outfit. In many cases models are wearing frivolous clothing that costs more than a typical Washington family will spend for food and clothes all year.

So be it, the article seems to say -- "Now it's your turn: to dream, perchance to buy." Thousands of people in Washington are dreaming of the day when they will have enough clothes to keep warm, something to eat and safe shelter. The article assumes that an important part of The Post readership is concerned with elegance at any cost, not survival. The disturbing message is that the article is probably right.

It sounds apocalyptic to pronounce that the real danger to democracy in America is right here at home, but it is true. Forget about the Russians. Every time we cut taxes for the wealthy so that they can pursue elegance -- and cut social programs that enable the disadvantaged to survive -- we weaken the security of our nation. A society polarized between those who have nothing (not even hope) and those who have too much will not endure.

The words "Let them eat cake" come to mind. "Let us be elegant" is merely an update.

Eugene J. Carroll Jr. It Was Dictated to Hess

Andor Klay {Free for All, Sept. 12} can stop looking through those copies of "Mein Kampf." Hitler dictated (not dedicated) the main part of his book to Rudolf Hess while they were prisoners in Landsberg Prison following the 1924 Putsch.

Incidentally, two other Nazi war criminals are still in Allied custody in Breda Prison in The Netherlands. They are Ferdinand aus den Funten, 78; and Franz Fischer, 85. Their death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment. They have been held in the prison since 1949.

Marcia Robinson A Little More Water (Cont'd.)

Duff Conacher {Free for All, Sept. 12} needs to add a little more.

It should be noted that the American Water Works Association also reports that less than 1 percent of water used in the home is consumed. Ninety-nine and three-tenths percent is "utility water."

It stands to reason that a consumer should expect to pay more for a food product, which bottled water is as defined by the Food and Drug Administration, than for toilet and bath water.

One other point: bottled water is, by all standards, the most highly regulated "drinking water" available to the public, and it is the public utilities that usually suggest using bottled water when public supplies are in trouble.

William F. Deal

The writer is executive vice president of the International Bottled Water Association.