For the movie, Father Paul Keller gave four homilies and a small portion of one was used in the film, but he also led the “congregation” of actors in prayer and distributed ashes for an Ash Wednesday service that made the cut.
He explained to the cast how they should do certain things at a Mass, such as hold their hands for Communion and make the sign of the cross. His day on the set started with his homilies, all culled from previous ones he had given, especially from his six years working at a Catholic high school.
In the movie credits, Father Paul Keller (Claretian Missionary Fathers) is listed as playing Father Paul Keller, a priest who is never actually named in the movie because his role is celebrating four Masses, shown in quick cuts during the movie’s school year.
He addressed the actors and extras, who were wearing Catholic school uniforms, as if they were truly getting this homily since this wasn’t a script. For the first homily, for the movie’s Mass at the start of the school year, he spoke for 12 minutes instead of his usual 10 for homilies. When he was done, the congregation stood up as if to say the Nicene Creed and someone on set yelled: “Cut!”
“It was deadly silent for two beats and then there was applause,” the priest said. The movie’s writer and director, Greta Gerwig, came running up to him with tears in her eyes and told him, “That was so perfect.”
It turns out, he said, his sermon’s message about fear and love and how most people are motivated by one or the other in the choices they make was essentially a summary of the movie.
Father Keller said “Lady Bird’s” characters are not always moral, but they are human, not caricatures.
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