America's Roman Catholic bishops voted yesterday to reject two proposals to eliminate what some regard as sexist references from the church's liturgy.

In one vote, the bishops vetoed a proposed one-word change in the communion service, which their own liturgical experts maintained would be truer to the original Latin and more inclusive. The proposal won the support of the majority of the bishops -- 150 to 98 -- but fell short of the two-thirds vote needed for adoption.

The bishops' action means that when priests administer holy communion at mass, they will continue to say that Christ died "for all men," instead of "for all," as the bishops' Committee on the Liturgy had proposed.

The vote was a bigger setback for the struggling feminist movement in the church than the church's continued ban on ordination of women, since the mass is at the heart of the Catholic religion.

"This is far more significant than ordination," said Sister Frances Cunningham, who, as an officer of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, was an official observer at this week's meeting.

A second proposal that would have given priests discretionary authority to change formal prayers -- other than the communion service -- in which "the generic term 'man' or its equivalent" is found, also failed to gain a two- thirds vote.

Archbishop Rembert Weakland, of Milwaukee, chairman of the liturgical committee, conceded that priests sym- pathetic to the feminist cause might deciide quietly to defy the church hierarchy and use unauthorized phraseology.

"Many will solve the problem the way they can," he told reporters after the voting. He added that the liturgical committee "foresaw that problem" when it decided to present the question to the bishops.

In the debate on the proposed changes, several bishops complained such an action would "open the door" to other changes, in the words of Cardinal John Carberry, the retired archbishop of St. Louis.

Liturgical change has been a sensitive issue in the church since the Second Vatican Council ordered that services be translated from Latin to contemporary languages 14 years ago.

Auxillary Bishop Austin Vaughan of New York alluded to that tension in an impassioned attack on the proposed change. "we are living in an age when masses are being celebrated in hotel rooms," he said, referring to followers of French Archbishop Marcel LeFebvre, who uses the outlawed Latin liturgy.

"This action would just encourage more people to join them," Vaughan said, adding that he didn't think most Catholic women objected to the current liturgy.

Bishop Michael F. McAuliffe of Jefferson City, Mo., disagreed. "I don't think we realize the hurt it (the present liturgy) causes," he told his follow biships.

"If we can do something to alleviate this pain, it would be a recognition by us of the role of women in the church."

In other actions, the bishops voted to tax their diocesan treasuries two- thirds of a cent for each Catholic to help pay the estimated $250,000 in expenses that the national office incurred for the visit of Pope John Paul II.

The six dioceses that hosted the pontiff -- Washington, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Des Moines and Chicago -- were exempted because of their own heavy expenses for the trip.

The Des Moines Diocese, a relatively small one, ended up with $1 million in expenses and a remaining debt of $400,000. But Des Moines Bishop Maurice Dingman declined, with thanks, a proposal to increase the assessment to help meet the debt.

"Everything that happeded in Des Moines was really providential, and the providence of God is helping us" meet the deficit, he said cheerfully. "We are working our way through it."

While the bishops were lavish in their praise of the pope during his visit here, a group of 27 bishops proposed an amendment to the resolution of the papal visit that urged that "opportunities for dialogue" be scheduled during future papal visits.

"At the same time, we recognize our two-fold responsibility, to be in union with our holy father and also to represent the experience and needs of the local church," the proposed amendment said. It was a reference, explained Auxiliary Bishop Francis P. Murphy of Baltimore, one of the authors, to the problems many Catholics have in following the strict teaching of the pope on such issues as contraception and divorce.

Cardinal John Cody of Chicago bitterly attacked the proposal. "We ought to be very forceful in telling our people that these are the teachings of the church," he said. "We ought to be very careful in talking about dialogue."

The amendment was never brought to a vote, but referred to the Committee For Follow-up on the Papal Visit.