Ribonucleoprotein condensates can exhibit diverse physical states in vitro and in vivo. Despite considerable progress, the relevance of condensate physical states for in vivo biological function remains limited. Here, we investigated the physical properties of processing bodies (P bodies) and their impact on mRNA storage in mature Drosophila oocytes. We show that the conserved DEAD-box RNA helicase Me31B forms viscous P body condensates, which adopt an arrested physical state. We demonstrate that structurally distinct proteins and protein-protein interactions, together with RNA, regulate the physical properties of P bodies. Using live imaging and in situ hybridization, we show that the arrested state and integrity of P bodies support the storage of bicoid (bcd) mRNA and that egg activation modulates P body properties, leading to the release of bcd for translation in the early embryo. Together, this work provides an example of how physical states of condensates regulate cellular function in development.