POLAND IS IN a new and perhaps better situation as a result of the visit by Pope John Paul II. Both he and Gen. Jaruzelski, who took his own chance in sponsoring the visit, carried off their respective roles. So did the third actor, that collectivity known as the Polish people, who performed with sensitivity and courage.

The pope's first purpose was to bring hope to the faithful, and this he did with an affirmation, more moving and spectacular each day, of the values of individual dignity, liberty and national pride. It is hard to recall another world figure who has articulated the West's spiritual heritage nearly as well. There was to some of his pronouncements a scarcely concealed political meaning, but his message and his fervor stayed within bounds acceptable though not always pleasing to the regime. This pope needed no instruction in the lessons of Poland's cruel history and location. He consciously lowered the temperature at crucial moments along the way.

The visit let Gen. Jaruzelski show he was confident enough to give the pope a Polish stage, to permit vast crowds to gather day after day--without a single incident or provocation, to allow the pope a meeting with Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, and to let the Western press swarm over the proceedings. The regime let all but the pope's most challenging statements go by without rebuttal.

Clearly, Gen. Jaruzelski was prepared to accept a great deal in order to reap the immense benefits of being certified by the pope as a legitimate Polish leader. He responded after their second meeting with a statement expressing the hope that the visit would advance social peace and saying that "further contact between the Apostolic See and the (Communist party) will serve the good of the state and the church."

The Kremlin has been growling. Its tolerance cannot be taken for granted. Presumably, Gen. Jaruzelski believes Moscow will be reassured by his demonstration of safe decompression. His implicit argument is not, after all, that the Soviet tie is popular in Poland but that his style of leadership is the best available way to keep Poland socialist and a loyal Soviet ally.

Thrilled as millions of them were for eight days, Poles must now return to their immense daily burdens. It is up to Gen. Jaruzelski to follow through by ending the remaining aspects of martial law, closing out political detentions, moving within the framework of his own labor law to restore workers' rights and honoring his commitments on church- state relations. It is a way--the only way--to get the West to stop punishing Poland with the sanctions imposed against martial law 18 months ago.