The Rt. Rev. William F. Creighton rapped ceremonially on the closed door of the Washington Cathedral yesterday and, for the last time as the Episcopal bishop of Washington, requested permission to enter.

The response to the ancient ritualized request was pretty much a foregone conclusion since inside, the cathedral was awash with colorfully robed choirs, acolytes bearing bright banners, the diocesan clergy in white vestments, a score of special dignitaries and about 1,400 persons, all of whom had gathered to pay tribute to Bishop Creighton before his retirment on July 1.

The 90-minute service of thanksgiving for the contributions the 67-year-old bishop has made both to the church and the community was marked by ritual.

From the opening ritual knock on the cathedral door - to save wear and tear on the cathedral's new doors, verger John Kraus yesterday whacked a hymnal held against the door with the flat side of a claw hammer instead of the traditional knock with the bishop's heavily silver crozier - to the benediction, the affection between a bishop and his people suffused the ritualized formulations.

As the cathedral Dean Francis B. Sayre Jr. welcomed the bishop inside and then bade the congregation to "greet your bishop," the massive cathedral erupted with shouts and applause, which undulated through the length of the nave as the courtly, white-haired bishop made his way up the center aisle, nodding and greeting friends on either side.

The service centered around the holy communion, which Bishop Creighton concelebrated with his son, Michael, an Episcopal priest in San Jose, Calif., and Coadjutor Bishop John T. Walker, who will be formally installed in September to succeed Bishop Creighton.

There were neighter speeches nor sermons, though Bishop Walker did make a few brief remarks after he finished reading the Gospel.

The day, he said, was "a sign and symbol of the great devotion and the high esteem" that Washington Episcopalians have for their "wonderful pastor and a great friend to all of us," Bishop Creighton was rector of St. Johns Church in Bethesda before elected bishop 18 years ago.

There was no mention of the controversies that in their day racked the church - civil rights in the '60s and in more recent years, the question of ordaining women to the priesthood.

The closest anyone came to recounting any of these struggles was Bishop Creighton himself, who in typical understatement, noted at the conclusion of the ceremonies that "we have been through many adventures together."

Three of the four lay members of the diocesan Standing Committee who brought the elements for holy communion were black. The prayer of benediction was pronounced by the Rev. Lee McGee, one of three women priests of the diocese who defied Bishop Creighton by being ordained in an unauthorized rite at the Church of St. Stephen and the Incarnation.

After the service, the congregation spilled out over the rain-washed cathedral grounds for a picnic lunch.

The Creightons will continue to live in Washington after his retirement.