Through the dark and empty reaches of open space flit beings of pure mind and vast intellect. Bodiless, emotionless, deathless, they are creatures truly alien, having been alive for fifteen billion years. Of nearly infinite intelligence compared to us, they penetrate the very laws of reality with their minds, observing the reaction of energy and matter, the collision of atoms, the division of cells, the birth of life. They are able to manipulate the forces of nature with the sheer power of their thought. It has been given to them to be the governors and masters of the universe; supernovas and black holes are their toys. If they should once focus on earth, the power of their presence would be so much that the human mind would see nothing but fire, eyes, wild beasts, or gleaming gold, and hear the sound of roaring trumpets. Should they once turn to God, holiness would leap through their being like a fire through a gas line, and they would become so aflame with love that if we witnessed their holiness directly, we would fall in a swoon and nearly die. They are powerful, sublime, beautiful, and blindingly intelligent. They are as superior to us as we are to sparrows. Our ancestors bowed before them and worshiped them as gods.
We call them angels.
Two thousand years ago, one of these beings was sent by God through an iron age empire to a backwater hamlet known as Nazareth. This being is so powerful that his name means "God is mighty," for his very being is a pure reflection of God's strength. He had been the familiar of prophets and visionaries, the revealer of mysteries. This being of might and mystery, called Gabriel, a prince of the spirits, came before an adolescent woman, did her homage, and cried out, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee!" The enormity of this moment cannot be overestimated. It is the beginning of our salvation.
"Hail, full of grace!" The angel uses the word "Kecharitomene,"
κεχαριτωμένη, which means "Having been filled with grace from the beginning." This is the incipient revelation of the Immaculate Conception - Mary was always and at every moment full of grace, from her very beginning, her conception. The angel bows before Mary because the presence of God in her soul is great than that in his: "The Lord is with thee!" Though she is so much lower than him in her natural existence, in the love of God she ranks greater, and has become greater than the highest angels. This teenage girl from Nazareth is the queen of the pure spirits, and they bow before her.
And then the angel speaks his message: "You shall conceive and bear a Son." As Augustine says, Mary conceived the word in her mind through faith before she conceived the Word in her womb. (The Syriac fathers playfully say that Mary conceived through her ear.) Mary conceived through faith in the promise of God spoken by the angel. This makes her a true child of Abraham, who also conceived by faith. He believed he would beget a child though it was naturally impossible due to his age (and Sarah's); she believed she would bear a Son though it was naturally impossible due to her virginity. The faith of Abraham began the lineage of God's chosen people; the faith of Mary began the lineage of God's Church. Just as our salvation begins with our faith, so also the salvation of the world began with the faith of Mary. And through that faith the Lord of the angels became her Son, and our Savior.