For the first time, the new technique of time-resolved electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESI-MS) has been used to accurately measure the pre-steady state kinetics of an enzymatic reaction by monitoring a transient enzyme intermediate. The enzyme used to illustrate this approach, Bacillus circulans xylanase, is a retaining glycosidase that hydrolyzes xylan or beta-xylobiosides through a double-displacement mechanism involving a covalent xylobiosyl-enzyme intermediate. A low steady state level of this intermediate formed during the hydrolysis of 2,5-dinitrophenyl beta-d-xylobioside was detected by time-resolved ESI-MS. The low concentration of this intermediate and its rate of formation did not permit pre-steady state kinetic analysis. By contrast, the covalent intermediate accumulates fully when the Tyr80Phe mutant hydrolyzes the same substrate. Using time-resolved ESI-MS, the pre-steady state kinetic parameters for the formation of the covalent intermediate in the mutant xylanase have been determined. The kinetic data are in agreement with those determined by monitoring the release of 2, 5-dinitrophenol with stopped-flow UV-vis spectroscopy. This demonstrates that time-resolved ESI-MS can be used to accurately monitor the pre-steady state kinetics of enzymatic reactions, with the advantage of identifying transient enzyme intermediates by their mass.