SEPT 26, 2020: She sings alone. Soft and controlled, with the pianist’s gentlest of touches on the keys. The song starts with “My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament” and it no longer feels like a performance. It becomes a personal worship and prayer by the singer and for me. I am no longer part of an audience that is being drawn in, but someone who is already there in that worship.
The singer is Maria Stella Maris Elisabeth from Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Kuala Lumpur and the prayer Act of Spiritual Communion was turned into a song by her and released during the Feast of Our Lady of Good Health early September this year through the parish YouTube channel. This was her way of expressing herself spiritually during the Covid lockdown or RMCO when only Malaysians were allowed to attend masses.
Stella Maris, born and bred in Jakarta, came to this country in 2011 a week after getting married. “My husband, Surya Sukardi, an Indonesian, got an opportunity to work for a local company here a year before we got married. I am now a full-time mother to my six-year-old son, Sebastian Getan Surya, and I do cover songs on my YouTube channel as a hobby,” she said in an email response to Journey With Us.
“In early July (this year), the parishes was reopened for masses. And I was so happy thinking I would get the chance to go and receive Holy Communion again. We then found out that non-Malaysians were not allowed to go to church. I was heartbroken and hurt, sad and angry at the same time. It was so not fair. As a singer, I wanted to express my feelings through songs. And that feeling was the motivation for me to create the song.”
She then found out that someone in Indonesia composed the melody to the Act of Spiritual Communion in Bahasa Indonesia and that song was used in online masses. “And I thought why don’t I create the melody for an English version? The song in Bahasa Indonesia inspired me to create the melody for the prayer in English. It’s the same prayer but different melody.” “It took me about a couple hours to finish the melody,” said the 34-year-old who now lives in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur. “Sacred Heart Church has been very supportive of this. They even asked me to do a Bahasa Malaysia version.” Which she did.
When she first arrived in Malaysia in 2011, I went to St John’s Cathedral in Bukit Nanas, Kuala Lumpur, because her husband was attending the RCIA classes for his confirmation. “I joined the choir and I sang solo a few times. I think my husband still has the video of me singing on Christmas Eve Mass.”
In October the following year, they went to Cameron Highland for their first year wedding anniversary. “It was the weekend. So, we went to the Chapel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel for Sunday mass in the morning. After mass, we had a talk with the Father who celebrated the mass and he told us that there was a church in Kuala Lumpur that celebrates mass in Bahasa. St Anthony’s Church in Pudu.”
The following week, they attended mass there. “We felt instantly like home. So, we went there every Sunday. And I joined the choir, chanted the psalms, chanted the exultate on Easter Vigil, and I even helped them to chant the Psalms and shared some of my music knowledge. Until last year, I was still asked to help them with sharing music knowledge in music workshop.
“Then one day, we passed Jalan Peel and I saw the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church. This Church is closer to our home. So I tried to find out about this Church, to make sure that this is a Catholic Church, and it was. We went there for mass the following Sunday. If I am not mistaken, it was around October to November.
“We loved the Church, loved the sermon; and the name reminded me of my home parish back in Jakarta, Hati Kudus. Because it was almost Christmas and I heard from the announcements after the mass that there was an opportunity to join the Christmas choir. Well, you might be able to guess. I joined. Hahaha!”
In January 2019, she was assigned as the Liturgy Representative for BEC, a position she holds to this day. She joined the music ministry in November last year.
“I love singing and God gave me this talent so that I could praise Him even more. I have been singing since I was eight,” said Stella Maris, whose father was originally from Flores in Nusa Tenggara Timur and her mother is of Dutch-Portuguese descent.
“My first singing was chanting the Psalm on the day of my First Communion. I don’t really recall when I started composing songs, but I think since senior high. I play guitar a little bit so that helps me with composing. Benedicto Giovanni Don Bosco, my little brother, is a pianist, organist, and music teacher in Jakarta.”
The two of them used to sing together for weddings with cousins and friends back in Jakarta. “His music talent is better than mine,” she said of her 29-year-old brother. “He has arranged so many church songs in Indonesia. He is also active in choir, teaches and prepares students for choir competitions.”
As for the composition of the Act of Spiritual Communion, once Stella Maris created the melody, she sent him a voice message and asked him to make the musical arrangement for her. Once he did that, he sent it to her and she recorded her voice and did the video.
“Then I sent it back to him and our parents. Our parents are really proud of us both. They always are. And my mother told me a couple of weeks ago that she still plays that song every day. I was surprised that Father Edwin knew about this song and he liked it.” Fr Edwin Peter is the parish priest of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church.
“At first, I wanted to process the copyright. But, it took some time and I was not sure when it would be done. So, I decided not to continue with the copyright and just gave the song to church as a blessing.” Both the English and Bahasa Malaysia versions are now on the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church YouTube channel.
“I really hope that this song becomes a blessing for everyone. ‘He who sings, prays twice’. We don’t know how long this situation might be, but I hope this song expresses the yearning of going to Church and receiving Holy Communion again.” (When the interview was done, non-Malaysians were still not allowed to attend masses.)