This work reports the relative importance of the interactions provided by three catalytic residues to individual steps in the mechanism of citrate synthase. When the side chains of any of the residues (H320, D375, and H274) are mutated, the data indicate that they are involved in the stabilization of one or more of the transition/intermediate states in the multistep citrate synthase reaction. H320 forms a hydrogen bond with the carbonyl of oxaloacetate and the alcohols of the citryl-coenzyme A and citrate products. Enzymes substituted at H320 (Q, G, N, and R) have reaction profiles for which the condensation reaction is cleanly rate determining. None of these mutants can activate the carbonyl of oxaloacetate by polarization. All these mutants catalyze the necessary proton transfer from the methyl group of acetylcoenzyme A only poorly, a process which occurs in a structurally separate site. Furthermore, all H320 mutants hydrolyze the citryl-coenzyme A intermediate significantly more slowly than does the wild-type. D375 is the base removing the proton of acetyl-coenzyme A. D375E and D375G have greatly diminished ability to catalyze proton transfer from acetyl-CoA. The D375 mutants polarize the oxaloacetate carbonyl as well as wild-type. For D375E, the hydrolysis of citryl-CoA is rate determining. D375G, having no side chain capable of acid-base chemistry in either the condensation or hydrolysis reactions is nearly completely devoid of activity in any of the reactions catalyzed by the wild-type. H274 hydrogen bonds to the carbonyl of acetyl- coenzyme A but also forms the back wall of the oxaloacetate-binding site. H274G cannot properly activate either oxaloacetate or acetyl-coenzyme A, and the condensation reaction is overwhelmingly rate determining. Nonetheless, hydrolysis of the intermediate is impaired. All the enzymes except H320R and H274G show kinetic cooperativity with CitCoA as substrate, indicating changes in the subunit interactions with these latter two mutants. The energetics of citrate synthase are surprisingly tightly coupled. All changes affect more than one step in the catalytic cycle. Within the condensation reaction, the intermediate of proton transfer must occupy a shallow well between transition states close in free energy so that perturbations of one have substantial effects on that of the other.