The idea of a catalytic role for the RNAs in the spliceosome arose from the discovery of ribozymes, RNA molecules that function as enzymes. In some organisms, RNA splicing can occur without proteins or even additional RNA molecules: The intron RNA functions as a ribozyme and catalyzes its own excision! For example, in the ciliate protist Tetrahymena, self-splicing occurs in the production of ribosomal RNA (rRNA), a component of the organism’s ribosomes. The pre-rRNA actually removes its own introns. The discovery of ribozymes rendered obsolete the idea that all biological catalysts are proteins.
Three properties of RNA enable some RNA molecules to function as enzymes. First, because RNA is single-stranded, a region of an RNA molecule may base-pair, in an anti-parallel arrangement, with a complementary region elsewhere in the same molecule; this gives the molecule a particular three dimensional structure. A specific structure is essential to the catalytic function of ribozymes, just as it is for enzymatic proteins. Second, like certain amino acids in an enzymatic protein, some of the bases in RNA contain functional groups that can participate in catalysis. Third, the ability of RNA to hydrogen bond with other nucleic acid molecules (either RNA or DNA) adds specificity to its catalytic activity. For example, complementary base pairing between the RNA of the spliceosome and the RNA of a primary RNA transcript precisely locates the region where the ribozyme catalyzes splicing.
Urry, Lisa A.. Campbell Biology (p. 346). Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.