Every Sunday, Poland's Roman Catholic Church is permitted to broadcast a mass on the radio--and that, says Lech Walesa, is the only concrete surviving benefit of the Gdansk agreement which, signed three years ago Wednesday, opened the way for his independent union, Solidarity.

The rest of the historic accord, said the one-time union leader recently, "was treated like a piece of waste paper."

Not true, say the Communists here. Although Solidarity was crushed 20 months ago by martial law and more restricted, less popular trade unions were introduced this year, the government of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski insists it is living up to the spirit and generally the letter of the August agreements signed with striking workers.

Those agreements remain a touchstone for the Polish conflict. For Solidarity activists and many other Poles, the accords represent a lasting record of persisting worker grievances. For the authorities, who have continuously affirmed the agreements as legitimate, the credibility of their rule rests on the ability to persuade society that the accords have been fulfilled or still will be.

"They are stuck with their own propaganda," remarked a senior western diplomat in Warsaw, speaking of the Communist leadership's efforts to reconcile its actions with the accords. "Their line is that the 1980 protest was justified but that extremists took over Solidarity and turned it into an antisocialist movement. They try to separate the agreements from the union that grew out of them."

To buttress its claims, the government this month published a 25-page booklet, a sort of white paper on the August agreements, explaining how each of the original demands has been answered. Entitled "August Agreements: Hope, Reality, Perspective," the report begins by asserting: "The August ideas have gone down in the history of the Polish working class movement and the Polish socialist state as expressions of workers' protest against distortions of socialism and their determination to fight for socialist renewal."

Rereading them today, some of those hard fought demands appear inconsequential in comparison with the fundamental, though fleeting, social and political reforms effected during the Solidarity period. At times, for instance, the Gdansk agreement goes into details as minute as the demand that back pain should be recognized as an occupational ailment of dentists.

But all in all, the agreements were astounding for the pledges that were wrung from the Communist leadership. In addition to promising a wide range of improved economic benefits, the accords stipulated political and social reforms including less press censorship, an end to privileges and job priority for Communist Party members and greater access to official media for the Catholic Church.

Most importantly, the agreements spelled out the need for a truly independent, self-governing trade union movement that could represent worker grievances against a Communist administration that still holds a monopoly on power.

What later went wrong, say Communist authorities today, is that extremists bent on overthrowing the socialist system led Solidarity into reckless strikes, vicious attacks on officials and insulting gestures toward the Soviet Union.

"Authorities have been unswervingly willing to fulfill their obligations," says the government pamphlet. "But the political opposition has used the spirit and the letter of these agreements to achieve goals contrary to social interests; it has been concealing its antisocialist activities behind the screen of the agreements."

The report goes on to state, paradoxically, that martial law became necessary to carry out the August agreements better and more quickly.

Only once does the study even hint at the possibility that authorities, by stalling, contributed to the radicalization of the union.

"It has to be admitted," the paper says, "that especially in the first months after the signing of the agreements, many officials found it difficult to change their ways of thinking. . . to eradicate deep-rooted bureaucracy and a management style based on orders and administrative measures."

Such intransigence, however, is excused in the next paragraph with the comment that, given Solidarity's "slanderous attacks" against the authorities, "it is no wonder the employes of the state and party apparatus developed defensive attitudes."

Giving a different version of history, former Solidarity chairman Lech Walesa last week recalled the uphill battle Solidarity had despite the August agreements.

"I think there were errors committed by Solidarity," he conceded during a dramatic confrontation with Deputy Premier Mieczyslaw Rakowski in Gdansk's Lenin Shipyard. "But the errors committed by the government were even greater. We were not given a chance to defend ourselves or to explain in public.

"From the very beginning," Walesa went on, "Solidarity was not a favorite child. It had sticks poked into its wheels. It had to fight for everything."

Actually, in terms of what the agreement called for, Poland's general situation now is in some ways slightly improved over conditions existing before the 1980 strikes. In other ways, it is distressingly worse.

On the one hand, new institutions have been set up--trade unions, a political umbrella movement called PRON, an economic social council--which, though far short of models proposed by Solidarity, provide at least potential channels for society to reach the authorities. Moreover, the Roman Catholic Church enjoys a more privileged position than at any time since the Communists took power after World War II, and there is economic reform legislation being put haltingly into practice.

On the other hand, police powers have been strengthened and the penal code expanded to turn the screws against political dissent. More opposition activists are in jail now than three years ago despite the amnesty announced in July. New regulations were passed last month restricting the activities of self-management bodies, postponing the prospect of trade union pluralism indefinitely, limiting the autonomy of universities and curtailing the right of association.

The government says it has met many of the purely economic demands in the 1980 agreements as fully as possible given Poland's economic crunch. These include higher pay, a fairer pension scheme and increased maternity benefits.

Yet other commitments--to shorten the work week, lower the retirement age, equalize family allowances and cut the lengthy waiting time for an apartment--have been postponed, say authorities, until the economy picks up.

As for the main aim of the agreements--the creation of new unions--the ones established under a law passed in October when Solidarity was formally dissolved are nominally independent and self-governing. That law also grants the right to strike.

But the new unions lack the regional--as opposed to occupational branch--structure that helped give Solidarity the political leverage to be truly independent of the state. Moreover, the right to strike is thoroughly hedged by extensive preconditions and arbitration procedures.

Concerning the promise of greater press freedom, a more liberal censorship law was introduced shortly before the military crackdown. But the censor's power was expanded again last month to cover such initially exempt publications as trade union bulletins.

Nonetheless, the Jaruzelski government maintains that a new process of social dialogue and reconciliation is under way. But last week, the Catholic bishops joined Polish intellectuals, workers, farmers and youth in challenging that view. In a statement the bishops said "genuine social renewal" still depends on whether the 1980 accords are "honestly implemented."