Toward the end of Mass Effect 3, Shepard encounters a Prothean VI called Vendetta. This VI has something very interesting to say about the nature of the universe:
Vendetta: Our studies of past ages led us to believe that time is cyclical. Many patterns repeat.
Shepard: Like the Reaper attacks.
Vendetta: And beyond. The same peaks of evolution, the same valleys of dissolution. The same conflicts are expressed in every cycle, but in a different manner. The repetition is too prevalent to be merely chance.
Liara: We assumed the Reapers were responsible for the pattern.
Vendetta: Perhaps. Though I believe the Reapers are only servants of the pattern. They are not its master.
Now, some of these repetitions obviously are the product of the Reapers. For example, the "Cereberus effect", where the anti-Reaper resistance is betrayed in each cycle by an indoctrinated splinter group, is clearly another aspect of Reaper manipulation.
However, Vendetta knew this, and he still seems quite convinced that there's something bigger going on. Vendetta is very clear: he's not just talking about the Reaper cycle.
At first I thought this was meant to foreshadow the sentient Catalyst, and its guiding influence over the cycle. However, that doesn't make sense: the Catalyst seems focused simply on continuing the cycle, but not manipulating what happens within each instance of it. The Catalyst guides certain things, encouraging new species to follow Reaper-based tech like the Mass Relays, but Vendetta seems to be describing similarities in how each instance of the cycle plays out, not just similarities in the harvest that brings that instance to a close.
Another sign of a "pattern" that predates the Reaper cycle is what the Leviathan tells Shepard, about the very reason that the Reapers were created in the first place:
Leviathan: We could not protect [the Leviathans' thrall species] from themselves. Over time, the species built machines that then destroyed them.
Of course, this is exactly what happens to the Leviathans themselves when they build the Reapers. So it would seem that at least one "pattern" existed before the Catalyst: that of the inevitable Reaper/Zha'til/Geth relationship with their creators. (This fits well with Vendetta's comment about "the same conflicts" being expressed in every cycle.)
Is this "pattern" ever elaborated upon, in the Mass Effect franchise? Was this meant to foreshadow the Catalyst's manipulation of mid-cycle events, or is there a larger "fate" or "destiny" phenomenon being described here?